Early stage symptoms of SCLC include a cough that doesn’t get better or worsens over time, coughing up blood, and difficulty breathing. Talk with a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is the rarer of the two main types of lung cancer, with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) being the more common type. SCLC is also the more aggressive cancer and classifies into two types, depending on the characteristics of the tumors.
While smoking is the leading cause of all types of lung cancer, the strongest link is between smoking and SCLC, according to the
This article discusses the common risk factors for SCLC and the early and late-stage symptoms.
Common risk factors for small cell lung cancer
Most cases of lung cancer are due to smoking, and the link is strongest between smoking and SCLC. But, there are a few other
- smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars at any point in your life. But the younger you start smoking, the higher your risk for lung cancer. Your risk also depends on how many years you’ve smoked and how often.
- exposure to second-hand smoke
- exposure to other chemicals and minerals, such as asbestos, arsenic, chromium, beryllium, nickel, soot, or tar at your place of work
- exposure to radiation
- living in an area with high levels of air pollution
- family history of lung cancer
- having human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- taking beta carotene supplements while also being a heavy smoker
- older age
- smoking in addition to having other risk factors
- Limited stage means the cancer is located only in one lung, and potentially the lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
- Extensive stage means the cancer has spread to the other lung, the lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, distant organs, and in some cases, the fluid around the lung.
According to a 2021 study, only about
- a cough that doesn’t get better or gets worse
- difficulty breathing
- blood in your sputum (coughed up from the lungs)
- chest pain or discomfort
Symptoms of extensive stage SCLC depend on the type of tumor and where it has metastasized. The
- your other lung
- your other lymph nodes
- your brain
- your liver
- your adrenal glands
- your bones
In addition to the early stage respiratory symptoms, symptoms for extensive stage lung cancer include:
- lack of appetite
- neurological symptoms
- fluid in your lungs
- bone pain if the cancer has metastasized there
- weight loss
- general weakness
It’s important to note that for most people diagnosed with SCLC, current treatments will not cure the cancer. However, numerous ongoing clinical trials are being conducted across the country for people with both stages of SCLC.
You can find more information about your treatment options on the
Survival rates for SCLC depend on the stage, the tumor, and which areas of the body it affects.
- Localized: This means the cancer has not spread outside one lung.
- Regional: This means the cancer has spread outside the lung to nearby areas, such as the lymph nodes.
- Distant: This means the cancer has spread to distant organs, such as the other lung, brain, liver, and bone.
|Stage||5-year relative survival rate|
|All stages combined||7%|
What is a relative survival rate?
Relative survival rate gives you an idea of how long someone with a specific condition may live after their diagnosis compared with someone without the condition. For example, a 5-year relative survival rate of 30% means someone with that condition is 30% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.
It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. Talk with your doctor about your specific situation.
SCLC is the less common of the two main types of lung cancer. Smoking at some point in your life is almost always the cause.
Early symptoms typically include:
- a cough that doesn’t get better or worsens over time
- coughing up blood from your lungs
- chest discomfort
- difficulty breathing
Later symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, and overall weakness.
In most cases, SCLC is not curable, but there are a number of clinical trials investigating promising new treatments.
It’s important to remember that survival rates aren’t the whole picture. Treatments are always advancing, and every person’s health and health history is different.