Small cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that affects lungs. Moreover, in some cases, prostate glands also get affected. Transformed epithelial cells form a malignant tumor, clinically termed as carcinoma. This type of cancer aggressively attacks the lung cells and progresses more rapidly than other types of cancer. Small cell carcinoma of lungs is found more in men as compared to women. Due to its oat shaped structure, it is also known as "oat cell cancer". Occasionally, it attacks other organs like esophagus, kidney, cervix, bladder, prostate and appendix. Malignant cells are composed of primitive-appearing cells. Small cell carcinoma of lungs originates from neuroendocrine cells in the bronchus. Only approximately 6% of the patients can live on average 5 years after being diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of lungs.
Small cell carcinoma of lungs displays tiny flat cells (due to lack of cytoplasm) under the microscope. Irrespective of their small sizes, these cells divide more rapidly and form large tumors. Malignant cells originate in the bronchi (breathing tubes) located in the center of the chest. The tumor synthesizes a type of toxic chemical that causes some unique symptoms known as "paraneoplastic syndrome". Around 20% of all lung cancers are caused by small cell carcinoma.
Small cell carcinoma of lungs is predominant in cigarette smokers. Our lungs are the respiratory organs. They provide the body with pure oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Each lung has several sections called "lobes". The innumerable chemicals present in tobacco smoke apart from agricultural chemicals and fertilizer attack these lobes and causes small cell carcinoma.
During preliminary diagnosis, patient’s past history is probed and physical examination is conducted. Besides, many diagnostic tests are recommended. They are mentioned below.
Small cell carcinoma of lungs has a tendency for distant metastases. It tends to spread from one part of the body to another in a short span of time. This is the reason why single treatments such as surgery or radiation (localized in nature) do not result in long term survival chances. If chemotherapy regimen is included, the patient is likely to survive more than five years after the diagnosis. Around 10% of patients suffering from small cell carcinoma of lungs who undergo chemotherapy treatment remain free of symptoms for a long period.
Around 40% patients have their tumor limited to the hemithorax, supraclavicular lymph nodes or the mediastinum region. The median survival of these patients is around 16 to 24 months depending upon the form of treatment. Some patients respond well after undergoing a treatment regimen that combines surgery and chemotherapy.
When the tumor has spread past the supraclavicular areas, this phase is termed as extensive stage. Such patients have comparatively worse prognosis than those belonging to the limited stage. Their median survival rate is around 6 to 12 months depending upon the available therapy.