Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) is a type of lung cancer characterized by the presence of small, round cells that grow rapidly and spread aggressively. SCLC accounts for about 10-15% of all lung cancer cases. It is strongly associated with cigarette smoking, with the vast majority of cases occurring in current or former smokers, although it can also occur in non-smokers, albeit rarely.
SCLC is distinguished from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which encompasses several other types of lung cancers that generally grow and spread more slowly. SCLC is known for its rapid growth rate and tendency to spread (metastasize) early to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, brain, and bones, often before it is diagnosed.
Symptoms of SCLC may include persistent cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. Due to its aggressive nature, SCLC is typically classified into two stages at the time of diagnosis:
1. **Limited stage:** Cancer is found on one side of the chest and can be targeted within a single radiotherapy field.
2. **Extensive stage:** Cancer has spread more extensively within the chest or to other parts of the body.
Treatment for SCLC usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In limited-stage disease, these treatments can be quite effective, offering a chance for cure, though the overall prognosis remains poor due to the cancer’s aggressive nature. For extensive-stage disease, treatment primarily aims to improve quality of life and extend survival, but the chances of cure are significantly lower. In recent years, newer therapies, including immunotherapy, have begun to play a role in the treatment of SCLC, offering hope for improved outcomes.