Small cell lung cancer is responsible for about 15-20% of the cases of lung cancer that are diagnosed. This is more common in men than women, and almost always affects smokers. Non-smokers are very rarely diagnosed with this type of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is very aggressive and usually starts in the airways of the chest. The cells do start small, but they grow rapidly and spread fast throughout the body. The right treatment means everything when you have a cancer that is moving this quickly.
There are three different types of small cell lung cancer:
- Small Cell Carcinoma (known as oat cell)
- Combined Small Cell Carcinoma
- Mixed Small Cell/Large Cell Carcinoma
Regardless of the type of cancer that you are diagnosed with, finding the best treatment solutions means everything. Therefore, you should always talk to your doctor to explore the options and find the right plan to get the best outcome possible.
Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment Options
Unlike some types of lung cancer, small cell is best treated using chemotherapy and/or radiation. These two therapies work to kill cancer cells and stop the aggressive spread of the disease, which is exactly what people need. The actual drugs and treatment plan chosen depends on the stage of the disease.
This type of therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. The medications used are generally given through IV, but they can also be taken orally in some cases. This is generally a combination treatment that uses multiple drugs to create the best effect, but again it varies from one case to another. This is a process that generally involves periods of treatment and periods of rest to allow the body to recover from the harsh effects of the drugs used. There are many different side effects of chemotherapy that can affect the quality of life significantly, which is why breaks in treatment are necessary.
Chemotherapy drugs include things like:
- Etopisode, which slows the growth of cancer by breaking DNA strands
- Cyclophosphamide, which interferes with the growth of all cells, including cancer cells
- Doxorubicin, which destroys the DNA to eliminate cancer cells
- Vincristine, which interferes with the DNA multiplication in cells to kill cancer
- Topotecan, which inhibits DNA duplication
- Paclitaxel, which slows the spread of cancer by interfering with cell growth
- Cisplatin, which breaks DNA strands and inhibits cell growth
- Carboplatin, which is similar to Cisplatin, but with better tolerance and fewer side effects
- Irinotecan, which causes damage to DNA cells to help kill cancer
In addition to this chemotherapy arsenal, which can be used in any combination, radiation therapy is another option that patients have. If there is bone pain or compression of the esophagus, patients may benefit more from radiation. Radiation therapy can be given externally through things like x-rays or internally, through injected radiation treatments, to kill cancer cells.
Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment- Other Options
For people who do not respond to chemotherapy or radiation, there may be other solutions. Clinical trials, for example, are often considered for patients who are in a serious state and who have few or no other options. While these experimental treatments can be risky, they are typically only used in a situation where the risk of no treatment outweighs the risk of taking unknown medications. In some cases, if the cancer has progressed too far or other circumstances interfere, supportive care might be the only treatment that is available. This basically means that people will be given medications to help them remain comfortable during their last weeks and/or months of life. It isn’t a common situation with small cell lung cancer, but it does happen.