Lung cancer is one of the primary killers of Americans each year. It is a disease marked by the uncontrollable cell growth within the lung, which serves to eat away at the lining and tissue of the organ and take up space used for oxygen and breathing functions. In the worst-case scenarios this cancer can metastasize, moving into other organs and tissues as well as bone. Lung cancer is primarily broken down into two categories: non-small cell carcinoma and small cell carcinoma. Of the two, small cell carcinoma is the worst.
Small-cell carcinoma is sometimes referred to as oat cell carcinoma because of the flat shape of the cells within. Scientific research has shown it to be the most metastatic of the lung cancers, meaning it will spread most easily from the lung tissue to other organs. Modern thought hypothesizes that small cell carcinoma originates in the neuroendocrine cells.
Early stage lung cancer is particularly difficult to detect, because symptoms may not appear until later in the life of the disease. By that time, treatment options may be limited. Symptoms of lung cancer can include shortness of breath, bloody mucus, an abundance of coughing for a prolonged period, wheezing, chest pain, weight loss and dysphagia (problems with swallowing).
Smoking cigarettes is the most common cause of lung cancer. It is estimated that approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are directly contributed to by smoking. The factors involved in lung cancer cases include the length of time the person has smoked, whether he continued to smoke into his later years, and whether he was a smoker at the time of diagnosis. Secondhand smoke can also be a contributing cause of lung cancer.
In addition to smoking, radon gas, asbestos and certain viruses are known to contribute to lung cancer--although to a much lesser extent.
A chest X-ray is usually the first step taken in the diagnosis of lung cancer. In an X-ray, the doctor can see if there are any obvious masses. However, there are occasions when an obvious mass may not show on an X-ray. In these instances, the doctor will look at the patient's symptoms to determine whether further tests are necessary. If so, this would lead to a CT scan or a bronchoscopy, which will likely provide the findings necessary.
Treatment for small-cell carcinoma is limited, usually done with the hope of trimming symptoms and raising the patient's quality of life rather than for the purpose of getting rid of the cancer completely. Because small-cell carcinoma is usually spread and metastasized too far for surgery to be a viable option, radiation and chemotherapy are usually used in its place. Even with these treatments, the prognosis for a patient with small-cell carcinoma is not good. Studies have shown that the 5-year survival rate is approximately 5 percent.