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Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • Consult a doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:
  • Go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department if any of the following symptoms are present:
    • Coughing up large amounts of blood
    • Chest pain that does not go away
    • Sudden shortness of breath
    • Sudden weakness of any limb
    • Sudden vision problems

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer   cells. Radiation can be given from outside the body using a machine (external radiation therapy), or it can be given with the help of radiation-producing materials that are implanted inside the body (internal radiation therapy).

Radiation therapy can be curative (kills all cancer cells), prophylactic (reduces the risk of cancer spreading to the area to which it is given), or palliative (helps reduce suffering).


  • Patients who are receiving chemotherapy require close monitoring for side effects and their response to therapy.
  • A blood workup, including CBC (complete blood count), is needed prior to each cycle of chemotherapy to ensure that the bone marrow has recovered before the next dose of chemotherapy is given.
  • Kidney function should be monitored, especially if the patient is taking cisplatin, as it can damage the kidneys  .
  • The patient may be advised to undergo a CT scan after 2 cycles of therapy to assess response to the therapy.
  • If the patient’s serum LDH (lactic dehydrogenase, an enzyme found in the blood that may indicate cancer when blood levels are higher than normal) is elevated before the start of therapy, it is a good marker for response and should be monitored.

Palliative and terminal care

Because small-cell lung cancer   is diagnosed in many people when it is not curable, palliative care becomes important. The goal of palliative and terminal care is to enhance the person’s quality of life.

The patient may be given radiation therapy as palliative treatment to relieve symptoms caused by compression of the food pipe, windpipe, or superior vena cava.

Palliative care offers the patient emotional and physical comfort and relief from pain. Palliative care not only focuses on comfort but also addresses the concerns of the patient’s family and loved ones. The patient’s caregivers may include family and friends in addition to doctors and other health care professionals.

Palliative and terminal care is often given in a hospital, hospice, or nursing home; however, it can also be provided at home.


Unlike other cancers, lung cancer is often associated with known risk factors for the disease. The predominant cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking; therefore, the most important means of preventing lung cancer is to quit smoking.

Products that are available to help quit smoking include nicotine gum, medicated nicotine sprays or inhalers, nicotine patches, and an oral medication (bupropion). In addition, group therapy and behavioral training further increase the chances of quitting.

  • For information about how to quit smoking, visit the following links:
    • National Cancer Institute, Clearing the Air, Quit Smoking Today
    • American Lung Association, Freedom From Smoking
    • Smokefree.gov
    • Quitnet

Other risk factors for lung cancer include asbestos, radon, and uranium exposure. Take precautions to reduce or eliminate exposure to such harmful substances.

The success of treatment depends on the stage of small-cell lung cancer.

In approximately 65-70% of persons with small-cell lung cancer, the disease has already spread to other organs of the body by the time small-cell lung cancer is diagnosed.

Persons with small-cell lung cancer in the advanced stage cannot be cured. They usually survive less than 1 year.

Treatment may be moderately successful for persons with limited-stage disease. However, even with limited-stage disease, the median survival time is less than 2 years.

The overall 5-year survival rate for persons with small-cell lung cancer is less than 20%.


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