Stage one small cell lung cancer (SCLC) defines an early period of the disease when the tumor is relatively small and has not spread to other parts of the body. Because SCLC is a very aggressive, rapid growth form of lung cancer it is rarely diagnosed at such an early stage. Small cell lung cancer can metastasize to other parts of the body before any symptoms of the disease become evident.
SCLC has been connected to asbestos exposure, although the most prominent cause for the disease is smoking. Over 95% of all SCLC patients have a history of smoking. Smoking and asbestos fibers can combine to create a fertile condition for cancer development, as they have done for both mesothelioma and SCLC. The tumor that forms with this form of lung cancer is a single large mass that develops in the bronchi – the tubes that connect the lungs to the windpipe. In the case of mesothelioma the malignant tissue is diffuse, consisting of small nodes or tumors spread over an area of the mesothelium.
Early Small Cell Lung Cancer
The staging protocol usually employed for SCLC consists of two phases; it is not the classic four-stage format used today with almost all forms of cancer. The reasons for a simplified staging system are that the disease is usually treated with the same therapy no matter what level it has advanced to; and because over two thirds of the cases diagnosed have already metastasized to remote locations in the body. The two stages for SCLC are limited, and extensive.
Limited small cell lung cancer means that the malignancy remains on one side of the body, in just one lung. Further, if it has metastasized it is only in the lymph nodes nearby the afflicted lung. Extensive SCLC is the advanced form of the disease when malignancy is found in distant locations of the body in addition to the main tumor in the lung. With this method the earliest stage may already include cancer that has migrated to the lymph system, but only on one side of the body.
Definition of Stage 1 Cancer
There is an elaborate formula that was developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer called the TNM classification system. It involves assessment of the tumor (T), the lymph nodes (N) and any evidence of metastases (M). There are several combinations of these three categories for each of the four stages. For stage 1 there is no evidence of malignancy in the lymph nodes, and no evidence of cancer beyond the primary tumor. That condition can rarely be applied to a small cell lung cancer case as they are almost never diagnosed that early. However when the TNM system is used for SCLC stage 1 would mean a very early cancerous growth confined solely to the bronchi where it has formed.