Sandra Blake; David Muñoz Carmona
Small cell lung cancer often starts in the bronchi near the center of the chest. This form of lung cancer grows at a rapid pace and spreads quickly. Small cell lung cancer is almost always caused by smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, it is very rare for someone how has never smoked to develop small cell lung cancer.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
People in the early stages of lung cancer usually have no symptoms. This is why lung cancer is rarely found at an early stage. Lung cancers start showing symptoms when the cancer has started to spread. Common symptoms of lung cancer are:
- chest pain, made worse during deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- cough that does not go away
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- rust-colored spit or phlegm
- coughing up blood
- feeling weak or tired
- shortness of breath
- chronic infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
Once lung cancer has begun to spread to other organs, symptoms may include:
- numbness or weakness in the legs or arms
- bone pain
- dizziness, seizures, or headaches
- lumps near the surface of the body
- yellow coloring of the eyes and skin
If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, a doctor should be seen as soon as possible.
Staging of Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer is classified in a two stage system. Limited stage or extensive stage is used to describe the spread of the cancer. Small cell lung cancer can also be staged from I, II, III, or IV
Limited stage is when the cancer is only in one lung and can also include lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
Extensive stage is when the cancer has spread to both lungs, lymph nodes, and distant organs of the body.
Treatment Options for Small Cell Lung Cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, most treatments will not cure small cell lung cancer. Surgery is rarely an option for the treatment of small cell lung cancer. Fewer than one out of 20 cases has only one tumor with no metastasis to lymph nodes or other organs.
The main course of treatment for small cell lung cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be done alone or with radiation. Chemotherapy agents used will depend on the stage of the cancer.
Laser therapy can be done in conjunction with other therapies, such as radiation and chemotherapy. An endoscopic stent can be placed to keep an airway open if abnormal tissue growth from the cancer is causing an obstruction.
Statistics Regarding Small Cell Lung Cancer
The National Cancer Institute reports survival rates for people receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for small cell lung cancer are approximately 46% at two years and 26% at five years. Five-year survival rates for patients diagnosed with stage IV small cell lung cancer is only at 2%. Survival rates will vary widely for individual patients based on medical history, stage of the cancer, spread of the cancer, and response to treatments.
Clinical trials are being used for the treatment of patients with small cell lung cancer. Certain criteria must be met in order to qualify for clinical trials. Clinical trials can provide options for patients with small cell lung cancer when conventional methods of treatment are not showing improvements.
Considerations Regarding Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer is an aggressive form of cancer and treatment must begin quickly. Patients should discuss in detail the treatment options available and the side effects associated with certain treatments. Treatment teams are usually available to assist patients and families with questions and concerns. Deciding what treatment plan fits best is an individual choice.
1. American Cancer Society, "Small Cell Lung Cancer" accessed April 13, 2010
2. National Cancer Institute, "Small Cel Lung Cancer" accessed April 13, 201