What is Small Cell Carcinoma?

Small cell lung cancer occurs when malignant cancer cells develop in the tissues of the lungs. There are two types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is typically less common, but more aggressive. A telltale difference between the two types of lung cancer is the size and shape of the cells. In small cell cancer, the cancerous cells are small and round under a microscope, whereas non-small cells are larger. There are two types of small cell lung cancer named for how they appear through a microscope: small cell carcinoma and combined cell carcinoma. Small cell carcinomas are often referred to as oat cell cancer as they have a similar appearance to oats found in your oatmeal or cereal.
Medical professionals discover small cell lung cancer types within the lungs. After an official diagnosis, doctors will work with the patient to determine treatment plans and discuss their prognosis. Symptoms of lung cancer typically do not appear until cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Once small call lung cancer advances, it can be treated, but, unfortunately, not cured. The American Cancer Society utilizes the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to present survival rates based on how far cancer has spread. They do not use typical stages I-IV, instead, they use:

  • Localized – No sign that cancer has spread outside the lungs.
  • Regional – Cancer has spread outside the lungs to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant – Cancer has spread to distant body parts like the brain, bones, liver, or the other lung.

SEER Stage SCLC Lung Cancer 5-Year Survival Rate (% Alive 5 Years Later)
Localized 29 percent
Regional 18 percent
Distant 3 percent
All SEER Stages Combined 7 percent

Small Cell Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Many risk factors lead to small cell lung cancer such as smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. Patients often experience severe symptoms before going to see a doctor regarding a diagnosis.

Medical professionals will utilize many tests and procedures to diagnose lung cancer. The following may be used by doctors to diagnose a patient:

  • Chest X-rays – the first step to screen for lung cancer
  • Imaging scans such as computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans – the primary way to diagnose lung cancer
  • Sputum cytology – checks for cancer cells in sputum, the mucus coughed up from the lungs
  • Biopsy – removes tissue samples from the lungs and tests for lung cancer cells
  • Bronchoscopy – examines the lung’s airways for tumors

A medical professional may use one or more of these tests to diagnose a patient. These tests can also be used to diagnose similar conditions such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is found on the lining of the lungs, whereas lung cancer is found within the lungs.

What is the Best Treatment for Small Cell Carcinoma?

Small cell carcinoma lung cancer is often diagnosed after spreading to other parts of the body. Some patients may utilize treatment for palliative reasons and others may fight the cancer cells by receiving surgery or taking medication. Many new treatments are emerging through clinical trials such as Sotorasib, which was recently approved.

Thoracotomy for Oat Cell Carcinoma

Surgery may be used if cancer is discovered in one lung and nearby tissues and lymph nodes. Doctors often utilize a thoracotomy to treat oat cell carcinomas. A thoracotomy is a surgery where a doctor cuts between the ribs that reach the lungs and other chest organs. By performing this procedure, doctors can biopsy or remove the cancerous tissues.

Types of Medications for Small Cell Lung Cancer

Most medications for lung cancer are used to shrink and kill tumors as well as prevent new growth. Other medications are prescribed to combat complications from other treatments. Medications used for lung cancer can be:

  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Immunotherapy medications
  • Targeted therapy medications
  • Palliative medications
  • Complementary and alternative medications

Palliative Procedures for Small Cell Carcinoma

A patient has options if them and their doctor feel that they should undergo palliative treatment instead of curative treatments. Palliative care is used to relieve symptoms and combat the side effects of treatment. Palliative treatment care can include:

  • Radiation
  • Pleural effusion
  • Massage therapy
  • Nutritional supplements