What is small-cell lung cancer?
Cancer, generally speaking, is a disease that involves abnormal cells which divide uncontrollably to form a tumour somewhere within the body. Lung cancer occurs when some of the cells in the lungs undergo genetic alterations, making them abnormal. This means that their growth is no longer under normal control, causing the cells to divide uncontrollably. This way, even more uncontrollable cells form, and during each division, further genetic alterations may occur which changes the cells further from the normal healthy tissue. Together, these cells form a tumour, which can eventually spread to other areas within the body; this spread of cancer is called ‘metastasis’.
There are different types of lung cancer, but the two main types are:
- Small-cell lung cancer – About 10-15 % of all cases of lung cancer
- Non-small-cell lung cancer – about 80-85 % of all cases of lung cancer, and these can be divided into: adenocarcinoma, squamous carcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
The two types are treated differently, and it is therefore important that the physician examines which type of cancer the patient is suffering from before choosing the type of treatment.
What are the symptoms?
The patient will rarely notice the symptoms as dangerous signs of the disease as these are also associated with harmless conditions. These symptoms include:
- Prolonged hoarseness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Repeated airway infections
- Swelling of face and neck
How does small-cell lung cancer differ from other types of lung cancer?
Compared to other types, this condition is characterised by a very aggressive behaviour with extremely rapid growth and metastases to other organs. For this reason, small-cell lung cancer is rarely treatable with surgical intervention, but instead chemotherapy and radiation treatment are more effective on this type of cancer. The disease can quickly become fatal, but with treatment, survival can be prolonged. The future prospects depend on the patient’s general health and the stage of the tumour – if the tumour is limited to an area within the lung, or if it has managed to spread.
What can you do to relieve the condition?
Small-cell lung cancer is strongly associated with tobacco smoking as 98 % of those suffering from the disease have smoked or smoke tobacco. For this reason, a quick smoking cessation is essential for survival. If you are a smoker or have been, and you suddenly experience the previously mentioned symptoms – for instance a pneumonia which cannot be treated with antibiotics – it is important to consult your physician as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, it is important to exercise as much as you can to avoid loss of muscle mass and to keep the body going. At the same time, it is also important to consume enough calories through food as malnutrition may restrict the body’s attempt of fighting the disease and recovering.