The most common initial symptoms of SCLC are a worsening cough and shortness of breath. However, this type of lung cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s in the later stages.
SCLC is much less common than NSCLC. It makes up about
SCLC often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages so it can be harder to diagnose early. Nearly
Keep reading to learn more about the potential early signs and symptoms of SCLC.
SCLC often isn’t diagnosed until the late stages. A lack of specific symptoms in the early stages is one of the
In a 2021
SCLC symptoms can develop from the invasion of lung tissue by cancer cells or from a tumor that compresses structures in your chest. The
Other signs and symptoms that may appear in the early stages include:
- swelling in your face or neck
- coughing up blood
- coughing up phlegm or mucus
- unexplained weight loss
- loss of appetite
- chest pain
Metastasized cancer is when cancer spreads to distant body parts. It’s also referred to as stage IV cancer. The most common places SCLC spreads to are:
- lymph nodes
- other parts of your lung
- adrenal glands
Symptoms of metastasized cancer depend on where the cancer spreads. Here’s a look at potential symptoms by location.
|lymph nodes||· often no symptoms|
· swollen or painful lymph node
· blood clots
|bone||· bone pain |
· bone fracture
· urinary or bowel incontinence
· muscle weakness
· high levels of calcium in the blood
· arm or leg weakness
· loss of balance
· memory loss
· speech disturbances
· behavior or personality changes
· vision problems
· limb numbness
· hearing problems
|liver||· loss of appetite|
· itchy skin
· abdominal bloating
· leg swelling
· pain in upper right part of abdomen
|adrenal glands||· weight loss|
· loss of appetite
· abdominal pain
· electrolyte imbalances
· adrenal insufficiency
|other parts of the lung||· similar to SCLC|
SCLC is a solid cancer most likely to cause paraneoplastic syndromes. These syndromes occur when cancer cells produce excessive hormones or when they trigger an abnormal immune response where your immune system attacks healthy nerve cells.
The most common neoplastic syndromes in people with SCLC are:
- Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuresis (SIADH): SIADH is characterized by the excessive production of an antidiuretic hormone that causes your body to retain excess water. It affects
15% to 40%of people with SCLC.
- Ectopic Cushing syndrome: Ectopic Cushing syndrome is characterized by the excessive production of adrenocorticotropic hormone by cancer cells that results in elevated cortisol levels. It affects
2% to 5%of people with SCLC.
- Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome: Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome is characterized by problems with your muscles and weakness in your arms and legs. It occurs in about
3%of people with SCLC.
SCLC symptoms by stage
You may not have any symptoms in the early stages. Some people develop symptoms earlier than others.
|Stage I||Stage I lung cancer is contained in your lung. There’s a good chance you won’t have symptoms at this stage. Paraneoplastic disorders can develop at any stage.|
|Stage II||Stage II lung symptoms may have spread into your lymph nodes, this stage has a greater chance of causing symptoms.|
|Stage III||Stage III lung cancer may produce breathing problems or general symptoms such as unintentional weight loss.|
|Stage IV||Stage IV lung cancer has spread to distant organs and may cause symptoms affecting distant body parts like your liver or brain.|
Limited stage vs. extensive stage
In addition to the stage 1 through stage IV classifications described in the table above, doctors commonly use a simpler staging of SCLC:
- Limited stage: In this stage, cancer is just on one side of the chest, typically contained to one lung and lymph nodes on the same side as the affected lung.
- Extensive stage: In this stage, cancer has spread throughout both lungs, to lymph nodes on both sides of the chest, and other parts of the body, including bone marrow.
SCLC is thought to be primarily caused by DNA damage to lung cells by chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Only
Doctors start the diagnostic process by performing a physical exam and taking your medical history. Imaging tests can identify tumors in your lungs or other parts of your body. You may receive:
- chest X-ray
- computed tomography (CT) scan
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- bone scan
A lung needle biopsy can help doctors understand what type of cancer you have. A biopsy is when a small tissue sample is removed for laboratory analysis. Your biopsy may be taken with a long, thin needle through your chest or with a flexible tube with a camera that goes down your throat.
Treatment for small cell lung cancer depends on how far the cancer has progressed. You may receive some combination of:
SCLC generally has a poor outlook since it’s often spread to distant tissue by the time it’s diagnosed. The
|Stage||5-year relative survival rate|
The 5-year relative survival rate measures how many people with the disease are alive 5 years later compared to people without the disease.
These numbers can give you a rough idea of what to expect, but your actual chances of survival depend on factors such as:
- your age
- your overall health
- the subtype of your cancer
- your response to treatment
- genetic factors
What can you do to prevent getting lung cancer?
The top risk factor for lung cancer is exposure to tobacco smoke. Avoiding smoking, or quitting if you currently smoke, can help you lower your risk of developing SCLC. Avoiding potentially harmful chemicals like radon in your home may also help.
Can NSCLC develop into SCLC?
NSCLC can potentially develop into SCLC. In a 2020 study, researchers noted that the transformation of adenocarcinoma, a type of NSCLC, into SCLC is well-documented after treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
However, this study only involved one person. Further research is needed to learn more about the transformation of NSCLC to SCLC.
What other types of lung cancers are there?
The most common category of lung cancer is called non-small cell lung cancer. Other lung cancers include:
If you stop smoking, does your risk for SCLC go away?
In a 2018
Can quitting smoking improve your outlook if you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer?
In a 2021
SCLC often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages and more than half of people have cancer that has spread to distant organs by the time they’re diagnosed.
If you have symptoms that could be from lung cancer, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment can give you the best chance of having a good outlook.