What is small cell lung cancer?

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancers in the world, among both women and men. It’s also one of the type of cancers that causes most cancer-related deaths.

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

A majority of those who are diagnosed with lung cancer has non-small cell lung cancer, and it can be treated in different ways.

Small cell lung cancer – on the other hand – is an uncommon type of lung cancer, making up about 10-15 % of all lung cancer diagnoses. It’s also the more aggressive type of lung cancer, and it grows and spreads at a much faster pace than non-small cell lung cancer.

Small cell lung cancer is also commonly known as “oat cell lung cancer”, as the cancer cells are lumped together in a way that looks like oat seeds.

What are the symptoms of small cell lung cancer?

In most cases, there are no immediate symptoms of small cell lung cancer. When the symptoms start showing, the cancer has most likely already spread, which is why it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

Some symptoms that can be caused by small cell lung cancer are: insistent coughing; wheezing; shortness of breath; chest pains; and coughing blood.

If the cancer is not contained to the lungs, other types of symptoms can also show. For example, a hoarse voice can be a symptom of small cell lung cancer having spread to the nerves controlling the vocal chords, and pains when swallowing can mean that the food pipe has been affected.

It’s important to remember that these symptoms don’t have to be caused by lung cancer, and that no matter what, it’s important to seek help from a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated.

What causes small cell lung cancer?

Almost everyone who is diagnosed with small cell lung cancer smoke. To quit smoking can lower the risk of lung cancer in general. But there are also people with small cell lung cancer who don’t smoke. The cause of those cases of lung cancer can often not be established.  

How can small cell lung cancer be treated?

There are different types of treatments for small cell lung cancer. In most cases, a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is used. It is also possible in some cases – of the tumor is small enough – to undergo surgery.

Which treatment is best depends on what stage the cancer is in.

Small cell lung cancer is usually put in one of two stages: limited stage and extensive stage.

Limited stage small cell lung cancer

If the small cell lung cancer is in a limited stage, it means that it hasn’t spread too much. Often, it’s limited to one of the lungs.

Limited stage small cell lung cancer is usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to decrease the risk of the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Extensive stage small cell lung cancer

Extensive stage small cell lung cancer means that the cancer has spread a lot – often to both lungs and sometimes to other parts of the body as well. If the cancer is at this stage, it’s very hard to treat.

In most cases, chemotherapy is used as a treatment straight away. Chemotherapy can help make the tumor or tumors smaller, but it’s rarely completely treatable. Sometimes, radiotherapy can help ease different kinds of pain.

Are there clinical trials for small cell lung cancer?

Yes, there are. Recently, a clinical trial for extensive stage small cell lung cancer was launched. It is currently open for registration in Mexico, and other countries will soon follow. Read more about it here:

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