What is Small Cell Lung Cancer?

Small cell lung cancer(SCLC) is one of two types of lung cancer, the other being non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer, also known as oat-cell cancer or small cell carcinoma, is the result of cancer cells growing out of control in the lungs. SCLC is a very aggressive type of cancer, with cells that grow much faster than they do in other types of lung cancer, allowing the cancer to spread quickly.

It is estimated that small cell lung cancer accounts for 20% to 25% of all lung cancer cases, and like all lung cancer, it is mostly preventable. The number one cause of SCLC is cigarette smoke, either first or second hand. The toxins in cigarettes destroy the lungs, and create the perfect environment for cancer cells to develop. Other causes of SCLC include exposure to radon, asbestos, and uranium.

Most of the symptoms of small cell lung cancer don't appear until after a tumor has formed in the lungs. These tumors cause symptoms like difficulty breathing and coughing, even coughing up blood. Chest pain is also a common symptom. In more advanced cases, where the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, symptoms might include a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, and even headaches and back pain.


There are many ways to diagnose small cell lung cancer. Most patients will get an x-ray or a chest scan to look for tumors. A bronchoscopy, during which a small camera connected to a tube is guided down a person's throat and into their lungs, is another option. Doctors may also perform a lung biopsy, which uses a long needle to grab a small piece of the lung for testing. These are just a few of the several ways that a doctor may check a patient for lung cancer; the doctor will choose the method that he or she is most comfortable with and that will best suite the needs of the patient.

Treatment for small cell lung cancer is determined by how advanced the cancer is. The most effective treatment is chemotherapy, which is sometimes combined with radiation therapy, which both kill cancer cells. Prescription drugs may also be used to kill cancer cells, and to prevent the cancer from returning. In more severe cases of lung cancer, part of the lungs may be removed to get rid of tumors.

The outlook for recovery from small cell lung cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is detected. In more than 60% of all cases, the lung cancer is advanced, and has traveled to other organs, before it is diagnosed. Once cancer has entered the advanced stage, patients usually have less than one year to live. If cancer is caught in the earlier stages, the five year survival rate is only 20%. The earlier a person is diagnosed and can begin treatment, the better their chances are for survival.



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