Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) differs from the more common non-small cell forms of lung cancer in several respects. SCLC is more aggressive, spreading more rapidly through the body and the lymph nodes. It is also frequently associated with paraneoplastic syndromes, a collection of physical responses to the presence of a malignancy. These syndromes are triggered by the immune system’s reaction to systemic malignancy, but not caused by the presence of cancer itself. They can impact neurological function, renal function, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, or miscellaneous other areas of the body.
These conditions do not necessarily contribute to the mortal impact of SCLC but they serve as an example of how unique this disease is. Both chemotherapy and radiation cause a tremendous response among most patients with the disease; in many cases the use of these two treatment protocols can result in the clinical absence of malignant cells. Non-surgical treatment removes all evidence of malignancy, even with some cases of advanced SCLC. Unfortunately relapse is the rule rather than the exception.
Survival Rates for Early Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer
The staging protocol for SCLC has but two categories: limited, and extensive. Limited SCLC would correspond to Stage 1, 2, or 3 as they are applied to other forms of cancer. The tumor remains on one side of the body with only local metastatic activity if any. Treatment for limited small cell lung cancer usually involves chemotherapy and radiation, with the radiation focused on a single malignant area – the main tumor.
Nevertheless if the disease is untreated after diagnosis the median survival time is a mere twelve weeks. With treatment combining chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the median survival period following diagnosis is 20 months. Survival for two years occurs in 45% of all cases, and survival for five years occurs in 20% of cases.
Survival Rates for Advanced Small Cell Lung Cancer
Extended small cell lung cancer is the term for advanced cases; those that would correspond to a stage 4 diagnosis in other forms of the disease. Advanced SCLC also responds well to both chemotherapy and radiation but also usually results in relapse. Treatment certainly is more extensive, to multiple zones in the body, but the variation in treatment is generally dispersing the use of radiation rather than focusing it on one area.
The median survival time for extended small cell lung cancer is twelve months. In the year 2000, the two year survival rate was 4.6%. Despite the efficacy of chemotherapy with this form of cancer it has proven to be lethal and to exhibit the same rapid rate of growth when it returns after initial treatment. Approximately 65% – 70% of all patients with the disease have reached the extended stage by the time they are diagnosed.