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Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a harmful condition that starts in the breathing tubes, called the bronchi. SCLC can spread quickly, or metastasize, to nearby organs and lymph nodes. Despite its speed, only about 10-15 percent of all lung cancer cases are small cell.
Symptoms include a persistent cough; chest pain made worse by deep breathing, coughing, or laughing; sudden weight loss; shortness of breath; and reoccurring bronchitis or pneumonia.
Making symptoms worse is smoking. In addition, it remains the top risk factor for developing SCLC. Exposure to asbestos or radon poses an added risk. For those reasons, if you experience these symptoms and smoke or have been exposed to asbestos, tell your doctor immediately. That will ensure you get an accurate, dependable diagnosis.
Although there are currently no effective early-detection methods in place for SCLC, encouraging large-scale studies show that the condition can be both identified and monitored.
For example, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) utilized regularly scheduled CT scans for those at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. It has found that patients who received early CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer.
For this trial, researchers used a low-dose spiral CT, a new type of CT scan, to take pictures. These new scans show better details than chest x-rays and are better at finding small changes in lung tissue. National groups such as the American Cancer Society are reviewing the findings to determine the effectiveness of routine lung cancer screenings.
While SCLC is typically not curable, it is treatable. Accordingly, it's important to remember that lung cancer survival rates vary from person to person. Age, gender, and overall health all affect how people respond to their treatment.
In the past several years, though, great advances in radiation therapies have been made, as have new treatments to stop the disease from spreading. Once such treatment is prophylactic cranial irradiation, which kills microscopic lung cancer cells that spread to the brain. In addition, an increasing number of patients are participating in ongoing clinical trials and experimental treatments, and they are showing promising findings. Some of these treatments are targeted therapies and lung-cancer vaccines, which could speed the diagnosis process and extend life expectancy.
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