Small cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that almost always affects the lung. It may also be referred to as oat cell carcinoma and, in some cases, is a mixed cell carcinoma. This cancer is almost always caused by smoking, but exposure to large amounts of asbestos is also a risk factor. Small cell carcinoma usually effects men more than women, and while not a common type of lung cancer, is considered very deadly.
Unlike other types of cancer, small cell carcinoma is not staged on a numerical scale but rather as simply limited or extensive. The limited stage refers to cancer that is contained within the lungs or bronchial tubes only. Extensive stage indicates the cancer has spread to areas outside of the chest. Limited stage small cell carcinoma is rare because it is usually not diagnosed until it has become extensive.
The symptoms of small cell carcinoma are similar to other types of lung cancer and may include chronic coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, sputum production, and possibly weight loss. Smokers are at the greatest risk for developing most types of lung cancer.
Diagnosis is typically done with imaging tests such as MRI or PET scan and biopsy. Treatment must involve chemotherapy and while small cell carcinoma responds well to the drugs, it is very aggressive and always returns. Though it only accounts for approximately 15% of lung cancers, the prognosis for this type is worse than for other types.
Even with treatment, small cell carcinoma usually metastasizes to other organs quickly. After the lungs, the liver, kidneys, and brain are usually effected. Surgery is almost never an option and the prognosis for almost all cases is short-term.
The best way to prevent this other types of lung cancers is to not smoke and to avoid second hand smoke. Anyone who has symptoms of lung cancer, especially people with a history of smoking or a family history of cancer, should consult a medical professional for testing and diagnosis.