Small Cell Lung Cancer

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What is Small Cell Lung Cancer?

Small cell lung cancer is a disease in which small cancerous cells are found embedded in the bronchial airway and tend to be centrally located. Small cell lung cancer usually occurs in people who smoke or used to smoke cigarettes. It accounts for about 1/8 of all lung cancers. Small-cell lung cancer is very aggressive. It spreads quickly throughout the body through the blood and lymphatic (node) systems.

Accurate Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

World-class pathologists at Fox Chase Cancer Center can provide precise staging for small cell lung cancer. This is imperative for patients to receive the most effective and best lung cancer treatment for them. The stages are as follows:

  • Limited stage small cell lung cancer is confined to a single side of the chest.

  • Extensive small cell lung cancer is when the cancer cannot be well defined in the chest or has spread to other locations in the body.

  • Recurrent/relapsed small cell lung cancer occurs when the lung cancer has been detected or returned (recurred/relapsed) following an initial treatment.

Treatment Options for Small Cell Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy is the pivotal form of treatment for small cell lung cancer. Radiation therapy through external beam methods is often used to treat patients with this disease and prevent it from spreading to the brain (called prophylactic cranial irradiation). In cases where the cancer has remained localized, doctors use chemotherapy in combination with radiation therapy, usually simultaneously.

Surgery is generally not performed on patients with small cell lung cancer because the cancer has spread to other parts of the body at the time of diagnosis. This makes the lung cancer inoperable. However, in some cases, patients have a single small area of cancer in the lung at diagnosis, called solitary pulmonary nodules. These lesions may be removed surgically, prior to chemotherapy with or without radiation. This option offers the best prognosis (chance of recovery) for small cell lung cancer patients.

Providing Comfort

Fox Chase Cancer Center's palliative care specialists provide a variety of pain management tools for patients with lung cancer. More

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NCI PDQ
See National Cancer Institute information on Small-Cell Lung Cancer Treatment