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Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small Cell Lung Cancer accounts for less than 20 percent of lung cancers, but it grows quickly and spreads rapidly to lymph nodes and other areas of the body. Small Cell Lung Cancer is often called “oat cell” cancer, due to the appearance of its cells under a microscope.

Risk Factors for Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • Genetics – People with immediate family members (parents, brothers, sisters) who have had cancer may be more likely to get the disease.
  • Tobacco – Smoking (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) is recognized as the leading cause of Small Cell Lung Cancer. Second-hand smoke (being exposed regularly to someone else who smokes) increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Exposure to asbestos or other pollutants in the air – Exposure to asbestos in the workplace can increase Small Cell Lung Cancer risks, especially for miners and workers in mills, shipyards and construction.
  • Industrial exposure – Breathing chemicals or minerals such as arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot or tar and/or other workplace chemicals over time may increase lung cancer risk.
  • Radon – A colorless, odorless radioactive gas prevalent in certain areas of the country where uranium exists in the soil or rocks, radon poses a serious risk and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
  • Prior cancer treatment – People who have had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk for Small Cell Lung Cancer, particularly if they smoke.

Symptoms of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small Cell Lung Cancers often grow slowly for a long time before symptoms develop, but tumors may grow large enough to interfere with air passageways. Common symptoms that eventually develop include: 

  • A persistent cough.
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm.
  • Chest pain, especially pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing.
  • Shortness of breath, painful breathing, or noisy breathing (called stridor).
  • Feeling fatigued, tired or weak; needing to nap frequently or for extended periods.
  • Unexplained loss of appetite and unintended loss of weight.
  • Frequent upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back.
  • Hoarseness, a chronic raspy or ragged quality to speech, or new onset of wheezing.

Symptoms of Advanced-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer include:

  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness or numbness in your limbs.
  • Lumps in the neck or collar bone area.

Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small Cell Lung Cancer often starts in the bronchi and quickly grows and spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.  It is classified in two ways:

  • Limited Stage - The cancer is found in one lung, sometimes including nearby lymph nodes.
  • Extensive Stage – The cancer has spread to the other lung, to the fluid around the lung (pleura) and/or to other organs.

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