Small cell lung cancer



What is small cell lung cancer?

The two major types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC is the more aggressive form of lung cancer. With SCLC, the cancer cells tend to grow quickly and travel to other parts of the body, or metastasize, more easily. As a result, the condition is usually only diagnosed after the cancer has spread throughout the body, making recovery less likely. If SCLC is detected early, however, it may be treated effectively before the cancer advances.

SCLC may also be referred to as oat cell cancer, oat cell carcinoma, and small cell undifferentiated carcinoma.

How common is small cell lung cancer?

SCLC accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancers. It’s less common than NSCLC. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of small cell lung cancer?

SCLC is usually asymptomatic, which means it doesn’t cause symptoms. Once symptoms do appear, it often indicates that the cancer has invaded other parts of the body. The severity of symptoms usually increases with increased cancer growth and spread. The symptoms may include:

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes small cell lung cancer?

A variety of factors influence the chances of developing lung cancer, but tobacco or smoke exposure is the leading cause of SCLC cases. Most people who develop SCLC have a history of smoking or have been exposed to secondhand smoke, but not all. Some people with no history of smoking or smoke exposure will still develop lung cancer.

When cigarette smoke is inhaled, tiny particles damage lung tissues. Anytime a cell must repair itself or regrow, there is a chance for things to go wrong. If certain mutations occur, a cell can become cancerous. With repeated smoke exposure and damage, the chances of a cancerous lung cell developing increase dramatically.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for small cell lung cancer?

There are many risk factors for small cell lung cancer, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Exposure to radiation
  • CT scans
  • Exposure to asbestos, tar, or soot
  • Exposure to diesel fuel
  • Exposure to nickel or beryllium
  • Living in areas with heavily polluted air
  • Arsenic exposure from drinking water
  • HIV status
  • Beta carotene supplements combined with heavy smoking

Research is still underway to better understand the influence of gender, ethnicity, and race on lung cancer.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is small cell lung cancer diagnosed?

The symptoms of SCLC usually don’t surface until the cancer has already progressed to a more advanced stage. However, SCLC is sometimes found early during diagnostic testing for a different medical condition. SCLC can be detected by several common tests, such as:

  • A chest x-ray, which produces clear, detailed images of your lungs
  • A ct scan, which creates a series of cross-sectional x-ray images of your lungs
  • An mri which uses magnetic-field technology to detect and identify tumors
  • A bronchoscopy, which involves the use of a tube with an attached camera and light to view your lungs and other structures
  • A sputum culture, which is used to analyze the liquid substance produced by your lungs when you cough

SCLC may also be discovered during a screening test for lung cancer. Your doctor may recommend a screening test if you’re at an increased risk for lung cancer and you:

  • Are between 55 and 75 years old
  • Are in fairly good health
  • Smoke more than 30 packs of cigarettes each year
  • Are currently smoking or have quit smoking in the past 15 years

If SCLC is suspected, your doctor will perform numerous tests before making a diagnosis. These may include:

  • A complete blood count (cbc) test to evaluate overall health
  • A lung needle biopsy to remove a small sample of lung tissue for analysis
  • A chest x-ray to check for tumors in the lungs
  • A microscopic examination of sputum to check for abnormal lung cells
  • A ct or mri scan to check for tumors in other parts of the body
  • A bone scan to check for bone cancer

How is small cell lung cancer treated?

Because SCLC cases are often diagnosed late in the course of the disease, aggressive treatment plans are often used.

When possible, SCLC is treated with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Different specialists will work together to find the best course of action for each case.

A range of medications will be prescribed to help manage the symptoms. Nursing care may also be ordered.

Chemotherapy given orally or intravenously, alongside radiation therapy, is the preferred treatment for SCLC because of how quickly the tumors grow and spread. Fortunately, most SCLC cases respond well to radiation therapy, at least initially.

In limited stage SCLC cases, radiation therapy may also be used after 3-4 months of initial chemotherapy.

Common surgery options include:

  • Segmental, wedge, or sleeve resection to remove the affected part of lung
  • Lobectomy to remove one lung lobe
  • Bilobectomy to remove two lung lobes
  • Pneumonectomy to remove the whole lung
  • Lymph node removal

The cancer stage, the person’s gender, age, family history, lifestyle habits, and general health will influence the chances of recovery for a person with SCLC.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage small cell lung cancer?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with small cell lung cancer:

Learn more about your condition and possible treatments by talking to your doctor. You can also use online resources to increase your understanding and to gain a sense of control over your situation.

Find a healthy way to express your emotions, whether it’s seeing a therapist, going to art or music therapy, or keeping a journal of your thoughts. Many people also join cancer support groups so they can talk about their experiences with other people who can relate to what they’re going through. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or visit the American Cancer Society and CancerCare websites.

Make sure to nurture your mind and body by doing activities you enjoy, eating well, and exercising. Spending time with family and friends can also boost your mood and energy during treatment.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: October 30, 2017 | Last Modified: October 30, 2017

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