Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) occurs when uncontrolled growth occurs in the small cells of the lung leading to the development of malignant (cancerous) tumours. It is also known as small cell lung carcinoma and oat cell carcinoma (due to the appearance of the cells). According to Cancer Research UK it accounts for approximately 20% of all lung cancers. In this article I will be discussing this condition in greater detail.
There are three types of SCLC:
1) SMALL CELL CARCINOMA:- This is the main type of SCLC accounting for approximately 95% of all SCLC cases.
2) MIXED SMALL CELL/LARGE CELL CARCINOMA:- This is a sub-type of SCLC that is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. It is believed to account for 4-6% of SCLC cases.
3) COMBINED SMALL CELL CARCINOMA:- This is a sub-type of SCLC which combines with squamous cell carcinoma (a type of lung cancer that develops in the bronchi) and/or adenocarcinoma (a type of lung cancer that develops in the cells that produce phlegm). It is believed to account for 1% of SCLC cases.
There are multiple risk factors associated with SCLC and these are very similar to the risk factors associated with non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC):
1) SMOKING:- Smoking is the leading risk factor associated with SCLC and is believed to account for around 90% of cases. It is more strongly linked with SCLC than NSCLC. Even if you are not a smoker, passive tobacco smoke can increase your risk of contracting SCLC. Quitting smoking gradually decreases your risk of developing SCLC with your risk returning to that of a non-smoker 15 years after quitting.
2) URANIUM:- Exposure to uranium is believed to increase your risk of contracting SCLC with people who mine uranium believed to be 28 times more likely to develop the condition. Combining exposure to uranium with smoking increases your risk even further.
3) RADON:- Radon is created from the breakdown of uranium and is another factor which increases your risk of developing SCLC.
4) ASBESTOS:- Asbestos is believed to cause mesothelioma but it is also believed to increase your risk of contracting SCLC. Combining cigarette smoking with asbestos exposure further increases your risk.
5) DIET:- According to this research a diet that is low in fruit and vegetables can increase your risk of contracting lung cancer.
The most common symptoms of SCLC are symptoms you would expect to occur with damage to the lungs. They include:
– A regular cough.
– A change in the cough (if you have had the cough for a long time).
– Chest pain.
– Coughing up phlegm with signs of blood.
– Hoarse voice.
– Pain when coughing.
If you notice any of the above symptoms then you should see your doctor immediately. They will then be able to investigate further and perform a number of tests to determine whether or not you have developed SCLC:
1) PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:- Your doctor will usually begin the testing process with a physical exam. This will allow them to assess your general health and to experience your symptoms first hand. They will ask a number of questions related to your general health and your smoking habits. If after the physical exam your doctor feels you may be at risk of SCLC they will schedule further testing.
2) CHEST X-RAY:- A chest x-ray will reveal any abnormalities in your lungs which could turn out to be lung cancer.
3) COMPUTERISED TOMOGRAPHY (CT) SCAN:- A CT scan takes multiple x-rays to build a 3D picture of the inside of your body and get a more detailed look at any abnormalities.
4) BRONCHOSCOPY:- This test involves a narrow, flexible tube called a bronchoscope into your throat. The doctor can then use this bronchoscope to look at the inside of your airways for any possible tumours.
5) LUNG BIOPSY:- A bronchoscope can also be used to take samples of tissue from the lungs which can then be examined under the microscope. This procedure is referred to as a biopsy.
If any of the above tests reveal that you have SCLC then your doctor will recommend that you start treatment immediately. The treatment options for SCLC are discussed below:
1) CHEMOTHERAPY:- This involves using anti-cancer medications to kill the cancer cells.
2) RADIOTHERAPHY:- This involves using high levels of energy radiation to kill the cancer cells.
Unfortunately, even with treatment the outlook for people who contract SCLC is not good. According to eMedicineHealth the overall 5 year survival rate for people with SCLC is less than 20%. Therefore, the best option is to stop yourself from developing SCLC by taking the following preventative steps:
1) QUIT SMOKING:- The number one way to reduce your risk of developing SCLC is to stop smoking or if you don’t smoke to carry on down this path and never start.
2) AVOID ASSOCIATED RISKS:- As discussed in the risk factors section of this article, uranium, radon and asbestos all increase your risk for developing SCLC. Therefore, by avoiding these substances you can lower your risk of SCLC.
3) EAT MORE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES:- As identified in the risk factors section, fruit and vegetables contain a number of chemicals which can help prevent cell damage. Therefore, increasing your intake can potentially reduce your risk.
SCLC is a condition which causes huge damage to your lungs and can rapidly spread to other areas of your body. Survival rates for this disease are low. However, unlike other forms of cancer where the exact causes are unknown, there are a number of specific risks associated with SCLC which means you have the opportunity to take preventative action. I hope this article helps you identify the potential symptoms and most importantly reduce your risk.
Whilst every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative, it is intended for general information only. SCLC is a very serious, life threatening condition and you should discuss any concerns, treatments or lifestyle changes fully with your doctor.
Combined Small Cell Carcinoma Information
Lung Cancer and Diet (Cancer Research UK)
Lung Cancer Information (BUPA)
Lung Cancer Information (Cancer Research UK)
Lung Cancer Information (Wikipedia)
Mixed Small Cell/Large Cell Carcinoma Information
Small Cell Lung Cancer Information (eMedicineHealth)
Small Cell Lung Cancer Information (Hycamtin)