Staging of any cancer helps in determining the stage, prognosis, and the line of treatment. The following article provides information about the stages of small cell lung cancer and its prognosis.
Uncontrolled cell growth in the lungs develop the condition known as lung cancer. They are classified into two types; small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is a fast growing cancer, which spreads faster than the non-small cell lung cancer. These cancers are classified according to the histological examinations of the cells under a microscope.
What is Lung Cancer Staging?
Staging helps a doctor understand the extent to which the cancer has spread. It also helps diagnose the size and location of the tumor, and whether the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. Based on the staging, the doctor decides the treatment that will help control the spread of cancer.
There are different systems used to determine the stage of the cancer, one of them is the TNM (tumor, nodes, and metastasis) staging system. This method is given by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). It helps understand the size of the tumor, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes, and whether the tumor has metastasized to other organs.
Unlike the other lung cancers, small cell lung cancer stages are divided into just two stages. The reason for this staging is that this cancer can spread quickly outside the lung. Hence, it is either contained in the lung or spread outside. The cancer is not seen spreading in a scan, it can happen that the cancer cells may have broken off from the lungs and spread to other parts through the blood stream or lymph system. Thus, this condition is treated as if the cancer has already spread to other organs. This is irrespective of any secondary cancer observed or not observed. It is grouped into limited and extensive small cell lung cancer.
In this stage, the cancer is present only in one lung, or lymph nodes present on the same side of the chest. There is no pleural effusion observed. The symptoms of this stage include:
- Persistent cough with or without blood
- Recurrent lung infections
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sputum
- Weight loss
- Swelling on the face and arms
The treatment of this stage includes a combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
This stage indicates that the cancer has spread to both the lungs, or lymph nodes on the other side of the chest. The cancer may also have metastasized to other organs of the body. The signs and symptoms of extended stage are similar to limited stage. However, some other symptoms may also develop which may include:
- Severe headache
- Double vision
- Chest pain
- Neck pain
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
The treatment for the extended stage also includes combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
When the cancer reappears after the treatment, it is known as recurrent stage. The recurrent cancer prognosis in this case is poor as the survival rate is very low.
Prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer, that is, whether it is still present in the chest cavity or has spread in the body. It may also depend on blood lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) levels, as higher levels of LDH may indicate the presence of this type of cancer. The age, gender, and overall health of the patient also determines the prognosis. The prognosis over 2 years is about 20% and in case of extensive it is 5%. The life expectancy for recurrent small cell lung cancer is about 2 to 3 months only.
Treatment can help prolong the survival rate that extends to up to 6-12 months. It is a fatal condition; hence, one should avoid active as well as passive smoking.