Lung Cancer, Small Cell
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Definition
If cells within the lung become abnormal start growing out of control, it marks the onset of lung cancer. As these abnormal cells develop, they often form a tumor and may even spread to other parts of the body. Small cell lung cancer represent about 15% of lung cancer cases. The other 85% are referred to as Non-small cell lung cancers.
Small cell lung cancer is treated differently than non-small cell lung cancer, so it’s important to understand the distinction. If you’ve been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, you likely have many questions and concerns. The information presented on this is designed to help you better understand what to expect from diagnosis and treatment.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Stages
After being diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, it’s important for a doctor to ascertain whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If so, it’s also important to figure out how extensive the spreading is. This process is referred to as “staging,” and the information is used to treat the cancer and determine the patient’s overall prognosis.
Staging is determined by looking at the results from imaging tests, biopsies, physical exams, and other relative tests. To ascertain treatment that has the best chance of success, doctors use a 2-stage system that divides small cell lung cancer into either “limited stage” or “extensive stage.” Limited stage small cell lung cancer is often treated with aggressive protocols like radiation and chemotherapy, while extensive stage small cell lung cancer is often treated with chemotherapy alone.
More information about limited stage small cell lung cancer
Limited stage small cell lung cancer is when the cancer is found on one only side of the chest. This allows a single radiation field to be used as treatment. If the cancer is found in only one lung, and isn’t widespread throughout that lung, it is still considered to be limited stage. Even if the cancer has spread into lymph nodes on the same side of the chest, this designation still applies.
In some situations the cancer may also be in lymph nodes above the collarbone, and as long as they are on the same side of the chest as the cancer, it may still qualify as limited stage.
Limited stage small cell lung cancer effects only about 1 in 3 patients diagnosed with the disease. Because the cancer is confined to a relatively small area, treatment can be more highly focused. A common treatment protocol for limited stage small cell lung cancer would be radiation therapy in one “port.”
As with any cancer, it’s important to speak with a doctor about cancer staging and options for treatment. There are also alternative forms of small cell lung cancer treatments that may be worth exploring. If you’ve been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, it’s important to educate yourself about all of your options and fully understand how various treatments will affect your body.
More information about extensive stage small cell lung cancer
If the small cell lung cancer has spread beyond the confines mentioned above, it is referred to as extensive stage. This means that the cancer may be in both lungs or has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest. If the cancer is in the fluid around the lung, some doctors may consider this to be extensive stage as well. Approximately 2 out of 3 patients have extensive stage small cell lung cancer when it is first discovered.
The TNM staging system is used to describe the spread and growth of small cell lung cancer. This formal system is based on three pieces that doctors use to determine the cancer’s stage – T for Tumor, N for Nodes, and M for metastasis.
T-Tumor designates the size of the tumor and whether it’s grown into organs or tissue surrounding the tumor. This is important, because it helps determine the best way to treat the tumor.
N-Nodes designates whether the cancer has spread into any lymph nodes in the region of the cancer.
M-metastasis designates whether the cancer has spread into any other organs besides the lungs. This may include the brain, kidneys, adrenal glands, liver, bones, or even the other lung.
The numbers that appear after these designations offer more specific details to doctors attempting to stage the cancer. Numbers of higher value mean that the cancer is in a more advanced stage. When all of these factors are calculated they are then combined into a “stage grouping” that determines the overall stage of the cancer.
The earliest stage of small cell lung cancer is called Stage 0. As the cancer becomes more advanced it will stage from I through IV, with the latter being the most advanced form of the cancer. The lower the staging, the less the cancer has spread. Obviously, higher staging requires different treatment protocols than lower staging.
While the TNM staging system is relatively straightforward, it is also quite complex. Every cancer is unique to the patient, so it’s important to discuss your particular staging with your doctor to understand the challenges unique to your situation. Depending on the nature of your cancer, you may have to choose between different treatment protocols, each with it’s own statistical level of success with other patients. This in no way means that these treatments will have the same effect on your cancer.
So, if your doctor uses the TNM system to stage your cancer, be sure to ask them to explain it in a way that you can understand.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Symptoms (signs of Lung Cancer, Small Cell cancer)
Small cell lung cancer often remains hidden until its spread to other parts of the body, but sometimes patients exhibit symptoms that could lead to an earlier detection. For this reason, it’s important to seek a diagnosis from a doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed on this page. Earlier detection increases the likelihood that treatment will be effective.
Still, it’s important to understand that most of these symptoms are indicative of something other than cancer, so of which may be quite common. If the symptoms persist for some time, then it becomes more important to seek the opinion of a qualified doctor. If cancer is found, treatment can begin right away.
Some of the most common small cell lung cancer symptoms include:
• A persistent cough that gets progressively worse or simply won’t go away
• Spit or phlegm (sputum) that’s rust colored, or coughing up blood
• Chest pain that increases when coughing, laughing, or taking a deep breath
• Constant hoarseness
• Loss of appetite
• Unexplained weight loss
• Shortness of breath
• Fatigue, tiredness, or constant weakness
• Chronic pneumonia, bronchitis, or other infections that won’t go away
As the cancer spreads to nearby tissue, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body, other symptoms may manifest. Some of these symptoms include:
• Pain in the bones, back, or hip that could indicate cancer in the bones
• Jaundice, which is the yellowing of skin and eyes caused by cancer in the liver
• Headaches, numbness in the extremities, seizures, dizziness, and other nervous system changes that could indicate cancer in the brain
• Lumps that appear under the skin anywhere on the body that may indicate that cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, commonly found in the neck and above the collarbone
Certain small cell lung cancers can cause syndromes, which is a way to describe a specific group of symptoms that a patient may experience.
Understanding small cell lung cancer syndromes
Grouping of symptoms particular to small cell lung cancer are called syndromes. What follows is a brief overview of the more common syndromes affecting patients.
Horner Syndrome is sometimes experienced by patients with small cell lung cancer. Horner syndrome is usually caused by Pancoast tumors, which are cancers that affect the upper part of the lungs. While this is more common in patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer, it still affects some of those with small cell lung cancer.
The group of symptoms referred to as Horner Syndrome affect certain nerves in the face and eyelids. This is because Pancoast tumors affect these nerves. These symptoms include:
• Drooping eyelid
• A smaller pupil in one eye
• Inability to sweat on one side of the face (or reduced sweating)
Shoulder pain may also be a symptom of Pancoast tumors, although this is not considered part of Horner Syndrome.
Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is a condition where the large vein that passes by the upper part of the right lung and certain lymph nodes within the chest becomes partially blocked. This important vein, called the superior vena cava, carries blood from the head and arms back into the heart. Due to the superior vena cava’s location, tumors can sometimes press against the vein causing blood to back up.
The end result is a series of symptoms that include the following:
• Swelling in the neck, face, upper chest, and arms
• A bluish-red skin color in any of those areas
• Headaches and dizziness
• Alterations in consciousness
Usually the onset of the symptoms are gradual, but sometimes it is more rapid and can even be life-threatening. In cases like these it’s vital to seek medical attention without delay.
Paraneoplastic Syndrome are a group of syndromes and symptoms caused by hormone-like substances that enter the patient’s bloodstream. These may affect both organs and tissues, even though the cancer hasn’t spread to those areas in the body. These issues cause certain groups of symptoms that are referred to as paraneoplastic syndromes. These symptoms are important because it is often the first indicator that a patient has lung cancer. It’s also common for doctors to suspect that these symptoms are being caused by some other ailment rather than small cell lung cancer.
These syndromes are broken down as follows:
• Cushing Syndrome is caused by a hormone created by the cancer cells caused ACTH. This hormone makes the patient’s adrenal glands secret cortisol, which causes symptoms that may include weakness, fluid retention, weight gain, easy bruising, among others. In some cases, Cushing syndrome can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, or high blood sugar.
• SIADH, which is short for Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-diuretic Hormone, is caused by cancer cells making a hormone called ADH. This hormone causes the patient’s kidneys to retain water, which lowers salt levels within the patient’s blood. The symptoms caused by ACTH syndrome include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, and fatigue, among others. Without medical care, the patient may eventually experience seizures or even coma.
• Nervous System Issues may also be caused by small cell lung cancer, because the cancer triggers the patient’s immune system to attack their own nervous system. Patients often first notice trouble getting up from a sitting position accompanied by pain in the hips. These symptoms are often followed by shoulder muscles becoming weakened. In a few patients other symptoms may develop that include trouble talking, unsteadiness in movements of the extremities, and trouble swallowing. Other nervous system issues like vision problems and changes in behavior may also accompany these other symptoms.
As mentioned above, any or all of these symptoms could be caused by any number of ailments, so it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have small cell lung cancer. If you’re experiencing any combination of symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor and get a proper diagnosis.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Statistics
Patients diagnosed with small cell lung cancer are often eager to find out what the statistics say about recovery. Lung cancers (both small cell and non-small cell) are the second most common cancer in both women and men. For men, prostate cancer is more common and for women, breast cancer is more common.
According the American Cancer Society, about 14% of all newly diagnosed cancers are lung cancers. This equates to about 234,000 new cases of lung cancer every year, about 122,000 of which are men and the rest women. Of these, around 154,000 result in death, 83,500 of which are men and the rest woman.
Not surprisingly, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, exceeding the combined death totals from breast, colon, and prostate cancer. While lung cancer mainly affects older men and women over 65, there are some that are diagnosed at a younger age. The average age for persons diagnosed with lung cancer is 70.
What are the chances of getting small cell lung cancer in your lifetime? Risk factors may vary according to genetic markers and health habits, which may ultimately skew statistical probability of acquiring small cell lung cancer. However, on average, about 1 in 15 men and 1 in 17 women will develop lung cancer in their lifetime. Smokers have a much higher risk of developing small cell lung cancer, but non-smokers have a lower risk.
While black men are 20% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, black women are 10% less likely to develop the disease than white women. While women currently are at lower risk than men to develop small cell lung cancer, the gap is drawing closer. Interestingly, black men are 15% less likely to develop small cell lung cancer than white men, and black women have a 30% lower risk than white women.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell
The stage of a person’s small cell lung cancer when it’s diagnosed can greatly influence their survival rate. Obviously, persons with later-stage lung cancer face higher risks and more aggressive treatment protocols.
It’s important to remember that statistics only tell a part of the story, and are not a reason to give up hope. There are many alternative and newly discovered cancer treatments every year, and every person will react differently to treatment protocols.
Causes of Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer
While modern medicine currently does not know what exactly causes each case of small cell lung cancer, many risk factors are well known. Doctors also understand why certain factors cause cells to turn cancerous. What follows are some of the risk factors that increase a person’s risk of developing small cell lung cancer.
• Smoking – There is no debate – smoking causes lung cancer, and this included small cell lung cancer. Not only are smokers more susceptible to developing lung cancer, persons breathing secondhand smoke are also at risk.
While smoking in and of itself is dangerous, it also interacts with other factors to further increase a smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer. Smokers exposed to asbestos or radon have an increased chance of developing lung cancer at some point in their lives. Still, some people that smoke their entire life never develop lung cancer, so other factors obviously play a role.
• Small cell lung cancer in non smokers – While rare, persons who have never smoked can develop small cell lung cancer. Exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, pollution, asbestos, diesel exhaust, and certain other chemicals could cause the disease to manifest. There is a small percentage of people with small cell lung cancer that have no known risk factors, but this may be because there are certain factors that are unidentified by science.
• Cancer causes related to gene changes – Sometimes DNA within lung cells change. This leads to abnormal cell growth where cancer can develop. Some genes help cells grow or divide and others control cell division or cause cells to die when it’s the right time. When these genes fail to function properly, cancer can develop.
• Genetics and inherited gene changes – Some people inherit gene mutations from their parents which significantly increase their risk for developing small cell lung cancer. Still, scientists do not believe that this risk factor causes many cases of lung cancer, even though it’s obvious that they do play a role.
Some people are genetically incapable of breaking down tobacco smoke than others, so they would have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. It is hoped that eventually a test will be developed capable of identifying people with higher genetic risk factors.
• Gene changes that are acquired – Genetic changes to cells that cause small cell lung cancer are usually acquired during a person’s lifetime. Most of the time, exposure to chemicals or other environmental factors are the culprit, with smoking tobacco being an obvious example. Some gene changes are purely random and seem to happen with no outside or environmental influence.
Obviously, preventing the onset of small cell lung cancer starts by avoiding lifestyle choices that increase your risk of contracting the disease. If you’re a smoker, quit. If you work in a job where you’re exposed to chemicals that cause lung cancer, find another line of work. This is especially true for those with a family history of lung cancer.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Screening and Prevention
If small cell lung cancer can be identified at an early stage, it can often be successfully treated. However, symptoms often don’t manifest until the cancer is at a later stage, making treatment more difficult and risky. Small cell lung cancer also spreads quickly, making an early diagnosis even more difficult.
Screening is the process of using various tests to find cancer in people that aren’t showing any signs of the disease. There have been some attempts at using x-rays to screen for small cell lung cancer, but this has proved largely ineffective. Low dose CAT scans and CT scans (LDCT) are currently being used to to study people at higher risk of developing lung cancer with some success. If you’re at higher risk of developing small cell lung cancer, your doctor may recommend getting an LDCT test annually to lower your risk of dying from the disease.
If you’re between the ages of 55 and 74 and in good health, the American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer LDCT screenings if you meet the following conditions:
• You smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years, and….
• You have at least a 30 “pack-year” history of smoking (If you smoke 2 packs a day, you would have a 30 pack-year history in only 15 years), and
• You are getting counseling to quit smoking, and
• Your doctor has talked to you about LDCT scans, and
• You are located somewhere that you can get the screening done
While screening has its place for many people people who are at high risk of developing lung cancer, prevention is still one of the best ways to minimize risk. One of the best prevention methods is to avoid smoking tobacco or breathing in other people’s smoke. Quitting smoking has immediate benefits, as damaged lung tissue will immediately begin repairing itself.
Another way to prevent the onset of lung cancer is to avoid radon and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. You should have your house tested for radon, and pay close attention to the chemicals you’re exposed to at work.
Eating healthy is another way to prevent cancer from developing. In fact, there is evidence that suggests eating lots of fruits and vegetables protects the body from developing lung cancer. Along with a healthy diet, an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise also promotes overall wellness.
Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer Treatments
Mainstream treatment protocols for small cell lung cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. There are also palliative treatments that are used to help sufferers with symptoms related to lung cancer. It’s common for more than one type of treatment to be used, but chemotherapy is commonly used to fight small cell lung cancer. Radiation is sometimes used for those with limited stage small cell lung cancer, but surgery is a rarely used options.
These treatments commonly cause side effects ranging from mild to severe depending on the stage of the cancer and the overall health of the patient. Sometimes complementary or alternative treatment methods are used by patients to help with pain, relieve symptoms, or achieve other goals. Many of these treatments happen outside of the primary care fields, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before using any non-prescribed treatment to ensure that it doesn’t have a negative effect on your health.
Alternative Treatments Used for Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer
If a treatment for lung cancer falls outside of the mainstream medicine spectrum, it is commonly referred to as “alternative.” There are all sorts of alternative treatments for cancer, but it’s important to fully understand your treatment options before making any health decisions.
Chemotherapy and radiation are highly toxic. The treatment alone can make a patient weaker and impact their immune system. If the treatment protocol fails, the patient may be too weak to attempt a different approach.
Some alternative cancer treatments focus on specifically identifying the nature of each person’s unique form of lung cancer. This personalized approach allows doctors to develop treatment protocols specifically designed to fight that particular cancer. This is different than the one-size-fits-all approach utilized by mainstream medicine.
The goal with some forms of alternative cancer treatments is to enhance the body’s natural ability to fight cancer by reinforcing the immune system. While chemotherapy and radiation damage the immune system, alternative treatments focus on good health, exercise, and a healthy diet to reinforce the body’s natural cancer-fighting abilities.
Any lung cancer treatment should be thoroughly researched. You should talk to more than one doctor, other lung cancer patients, and from those who have successfully fought the disease. Your body is yours alone, so it is ultimately up to you to decide how you would like to approach treatment.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer
There are certain vitamins and supplements that studies show may play a role in the successful treatment of small cell lung cancer. What follows is a breakdown of some of the most common.
Vitamin D is important to overall health, and it is thought to play a key role in cancer prevention. One study showed that patients with higher vitamin D intake had a longer period of recurrence-free survival than those with less. If you live in a more northern latitude, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the proper amount of vitamin D, even if it means taking a supplement.
Melatatoin is used a supplement for some patients receiving chemotherapy, because it’s shown to increase survival rates and promote tumor regresssion.
Vitamin E was the subject of a study involving smokers, and it was shown that it could help reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by up to 19%.
Zinc supplements have been shows to significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer, especially when taken daily.
Soy Isoflavones are another dietary choice that may help lower the mortality rate in persons diagnozed with small cell lung cancer. One study showed that women with high soy levels in their diet before diagnosis had mortality rates 81% lower at the two year follow-up than women who had a median intake of soy.
Natural Remedies that May Help Lung Cancer, Small Cell Cancer
Some people swear by certain natural remedies intended to fight small cell lung cancer. As with all treatments, you should always consult your doctor before putting your trust in any one remedy or “cure-all.” Still, it’s always a good idea to maintain a healthy body with daily exercise and a proper diet, and many so-called remedies certainly promote wellness and healthy living.
The goal with many natural remedies is to help a patient’s body heal itself by bolstering the immune system. Some of the natural remedies commonly thought to promote this concept include:
• Eating organic, plant-based foods
• Taking natural supplements and vitamins
• Drinking raw juices
Some natural remedies focus on detoxification by using a series of enemas to clean out the body’s digestive system. Some believe that this not only removes toxins from the body, but may also help relieve pressure on the liver. The combined effect further motivates the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.
There are many other natural remedies that some believe help fight cancer, and others that are meant to help ease the symptoms and pain associated with the disease. There are endless websites that cover these topics online, but be sure to talk to your doctor before attempting to use any natural remedy to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your treatment protocols.
Contact a member of the Causenta team for more information regarding small cell lung cancer.
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