Small-Cell Lung Cancer - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Small-Cell Lung Cancer

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Small-cell lung cancer differs from non-small-cell lung cancer in the following ways:

  • Small-cell lung cancer grows rapidly.
  • Small-cell lung cancer spreads quickly.
  • Small-cell lung cancer responds well to chemotherapy (using medications to kill cancer cells) and radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells).
  • Small-cell lung cancer is frequently associated with distinct paraneoplastic syndromes (collection of symptoms that result from substances produced by the tumor, occurring far away from the tumor).

Small-Cell Lung Cancer Causes

  • The predominant cause of both small-cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer istobacco smoking. However, small-cell lung cancer is more strongly linked to smoking than non-small-cell lung cancer.
  • Even secondhand tobacco smoke is a risk factor for lung cancer.
  • All types of lung cancers occur with increased frequency in people who mine uranium, but small-cell lung cancer is most common. The prevalence is increased further in persons who smoke.
  • Exposure to radon (an inert gas that develops from the decay of uranium) has been reported to cause small-cell lung cancer.
  • Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer by 9 times. A combination of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking increases the risk by as much as 50 times.

Small-Cell Lung Cancer Symptoms

Persons with small-cell lung cancer typically have had symptoms for a relatively short time (8-12 weeks) before they visit their doctor.

The symptoms can result from local growth of the tumor, spread to nearby areas, distant spread, paraneoplastic syndromes, or a combination thereof.

Symptoms due to local growth of the tumor include the following:

  • Cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain made worsened by deep breathing

Symptoms due to spread of the cancer to nearby areas include the following:

  • Hoarseness of voice, resulting from compression of the nerve that supplies the vocal cords
  • Shortness of breath, resulting from compression of the nerve that supplies the muscles of the diaphragm or severe shortness of breath, and stridor (sound produced by turbulent flow of air through a narrowed part of the respiratory tract), resulting from compression of the trachea (windpipe) and larger bronchi (airways of the lung
  • Difficulty swallowing, resulting from compression of the esophagus (food pipe
  • Swelling of the face and hands, resulting from compression of the superior vena cava (vein that returns deoxygenated blood from the upper body)

Symptoms due to distant cancer spread depend on the site of spread and include the following:

  • Spread to the brain can cause headache, blurring of vision, nausea, vomiting, and weakness of any limb.
  • Spread to the vertebral column can cause back pain.
  • Spread to the spinal cord can cause paralysis.
  • Spread to the bone can cause bone pain.
  • Spread to the liver can cause pain in the right upper part of the abdomen.

Symptoms due to paraneoplastic syndromes include the following:

  • Symptoms may or may not be characteristic of a specific organ system.
  • Nonspecific symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

When to Seek Medical Care

Consult a doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained persistent fatigue
  • Unexplained deep aches or pains

Go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Coughing up large amounts of blood
  • Chest pain that does not go away
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sudden weakness of any limb
  • Sudden vision problems