Symptoms of small cell lung cancer are similar to those of other lung cancers, and include persistent cough, chest pain, hemoptysis, difficulty in swallowing, etc. The following article discusses the same in further detail.
Small cell lung cancer, also known as ‘small cell undifferentiated carcinoma’, is an aggressive type of carcinoma that affects the lungs. It progresses much faster than the slow-growing non-small cell lung cancers. The following paragraphs contain information that will help you know more about its symptoms, causes, and treatment.
What is Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer originates in the bronchial tissues. It is often associated with smoking, and is more commonly observed in males. This aggressive cancer is known to grow and spread very fast, and may even affect the brain. Symptoms arise due to the secretion of hormones by the tumor, or due to the immune response to the presence of tumor, and are called paraneoplastic syndrome.
Unlike the staging system followed for other cancers, small cell lung cancer is classified as ‘extensive small cell lung cancer’ and ‘limited small cell lung cancer’. The extensive stage refers to the spread of cancer to other organs located outside the chest cavity. In the limited stage, the cancer is contained within the lungs or bronchial tubes. This type of lung cancer is often diagnosed only after it reaches the extensive stage.
Types of Small Cell Lung Cancer
There are three types of small cell lung cancers, that are named according to the type of cells present in the cancerous tumors. These types are:
- Small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer)
- Mixed small cell or large cell carcinoma
- Combined small cell carcinoma
Small cell lung cancer makes up about 15% of all lung cancers. The most common cause is smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars. It is very rare to observe small cell lung cancer in people who never smoke. Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause small cell lung cancer. It may also be the result of chronic exposure to radiation and high levels of asbestos.
Some of the symptoms to identify this disease are as follows:
- Persistent cough
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent lung infections, pneumonia, and/or bronchitis
- Swelling in the face and neck
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Low sodium levels in blood
- Loss of coordination
- Difficulty while speaking, due to paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration
- Weakness in muscles of the upper arms
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Clubbing or rounding of fingernails
When the disease spreads to other parts of the body, the symptoms manifested depend on the area affected. When it spreads to the bone, it causes back pain, hip pain, and rib pain. When it spreads to the brain, it causes headaches, vision changes, weakness, seizures, etc.
The treatment consists of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, for many patients these treatments may not completely cure the cancer. Small cell lung cancer in the limited stage is easier to treat than the extensive stage. As the disease progresses, the cancer becomes resistant to treatment. Surgery is never an option with small cell lung cancer, as only less than 20% cases involve cancer that has not metastasized to lymph nodes and other organs.
This type of cancer has a poor prognosis, and the survival rate is less than 6%. Life expectancy, without treatment, is merely 2-4 months. In case of limited stage, the survival period is 16-24 months with radiation therapy. The 5-year survival rate is about 14%, despite undergoing an appropriate treatment. In case of extensive stage, the survival period is about 6-12 months with treatment.
Chronic smokers or those who used to smoke in past, should get themselves regularly checked for any signs of lung cancer. If experiencing persistent cough, recurring infections, fatigue, or bloody sputum, speak to a health care provider immediately. Small cell lung cancer caught in the early stage has better prognosis than the extensive stage.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.