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Patient education: Small cell lung cancer (The Basics)

Patient education: Small cell lung cancer (The Basics)

What is small cell lung cancer? — Lung cancer happens when normal lung cells change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. There are different types of lung cancer. Some types grow faster than others.

Small cell lung cancer is 1 type of lung cancer. It is typically fast growing. Most people who get small cell lung cancer are people who smoke or used to smoke.

What is lung cancer staging? — Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far in your body a cancer has spread. To describe how far a person's small cell lung cancer has spread, doctors use the words "limited" or "extensive."

People with limited disease have lung cancer on 1 side of the chest, either in the right lung or in the left lung.

People with extensive disease have lung cancer on both sides of the chest (in the right and left lungs). Or their lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your lung cancer.

How is limited lung cancer treated? — People with limited small cell lung cancer are usually treated with both chemotherapy and radiation:

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that kill cancer cells.

Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells. Most people get radiation therapy at the same time as their chemotherapy treatment. But some people start radiation therapy after their chemotherapy is done. Usually, people have radiation aimed at the lungs. This can kill the cancer in the lungs. But people might also have radiation aimed at the brain, even if they do not have cancer in the brain. That's because brain radiation can reduce the chance that the cancer will spread to the brain.

If the cancer only affects a small part of the lung, some people will be treated with surgery first. Surgery removes the part of the lung with the cancer. This is followed by chemotherapy and sometimes radiation.

How is extensive lung cancer treated? — People with extensive small cell lung cancer are usually treated with chemotherapy plus an immunotherapy medicine. "Immunotherapy" is the term doctors use to describe medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system to stop cancer growth.

After chemotherapy, some people have treatment with radiation therapy to the lungs. Sometimes, people also have radiation therapy to the brain to prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain.

What happens after treatment? — After treatment, your doctor will check you every so often to see if your lung cancer has come back or is growing. Follow-up tests usually include exams and imaging tests such as chest X-rays or CT scans. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

In most people treated for limited disease, small cell lung cancer comes back within 1 to 2 years. For people with extensive disease, treatment usually cannot cure the cancer. But it can help people live a little longer.

What happens if the lung cancer comes back? — If the lung cancer comes back, you might get more chemotherapy. Depending on your situation, your doctor might use the same chemotherapy medicines again, or they might try different medicines.

What if I smoke? — If you smoke, try to quit. People who survive lung cancer have a greater chance of getting lung cancer again if they smoke.

What else should I do? — Follow all of your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for lung cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when.

Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?

What are the downsides to this treatment?

Are there other options besides this treatment?

What happens if I do not have this treatment?

More on this topic

Patient education: Lung cancer (The Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (The Basics)

Patient education: Small cell lung cancer treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Lung cancer prevention and screening (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Lung cancer risks, symptoms, and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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