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Small cell lung cancer is one of the two main types of lung cancer. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of all lung cancers are diagnosed as small cell. This form of lung cancer usually originates near the center of the chest in the bronchi. It often spreads during the early stages and it often spreads widely. Smoking is what almost always causes this cancer. In very rare cases, the cause can include second-hand smoking, radon exposure, asbestos exposure, and uranium exposure. Since this cancer often spreads in the early stages it is very important for those who smoke to know what the presenting symptoms of small cell lung cancer are so if these symptoms are present they can consult their physician for a diagnosis.
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Small Cell Lung Cancer Characteristics
There are several characteristics of small cell lung cancer that are important to know because they explain why surgery is rarely used to treat it. These include the the cancer cells creating large tumors, the cancer cells tending to multiply rapidly, and this cancer spreading to other organs and the lymph nodes. The other organs small cell lung cancer tends to spread to includes the bones, adrenal glands, brain, and liver.
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Symptoms of Small Cell Lung Cancer
The symptoms a patient experiences vary depending on the patient and the stage of the cancer. The presenting symptoms of small cell lung cancer include cough, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and chest pain that is more severe when breathing deeply.
When the cancer has spread to areas nearby certain symptoms can occur. These include hoarseness of the voice, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, and the hands and face swelling.
When this cancer has spread to more distant areas of the body certain symptoms can occur. These include bone pain (when the cancer has spread to bone), back pain (when the cancer has spread to vertebral column, upper right abdominal pain (when cancer has spread to liver), and paralysis (when cancer has spread to spinal cord). If this cancer spreads to the brain patients can experience blurry vision, vomiting, headache, nausea, and limb weakness.
There are nonspecific symptoms that can also occur. These include loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss. These symptoms can occur regardless of whether the cancer has spread or not.
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Patients who smoke, or have been exposed to asbestos, uranium, second hand smoke (especially often), or radon, and have the presenting symptoms should consult their physician. This cancer can spread quickly so a timely and correct diagnosis is extremely important so that the doctor can construct the best treatment plan and the patient can begin treatment as soon as possible.
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American Cancer Society. (2010). What is Small Cell Lung Cancer? Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from the American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_is_small_cell_lung_cancer.asp
eMedicineHealth. (2010). Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from eMedicineHealth: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/small-cell_lung_cancer/article_em.htm
Spiro, S.G. MD, et al. (2007). Initial Evaluation of the Patient with Lung Cancer. Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from the American College of Chest Physicians Journal: http://chestjournal.chestpubs.org/content/132/3_suppl/149S.long
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Small Cell Lung Cancer: Nephron – Wikimedia Commons