Small cell prostate cancer is a rare but aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Less than 2% of all prostate cancers are small cell carcinomas of the prostate (SCCP), according to Cancer Research UK. Most cases are in advanced stages by the time they are diagnosed.

Learn more about the symptoms, potential causes, and treatment options for small cell prostate cancer that you may wish to discuss further with a doctor.

Like other types of prostate cancer, small cell prostate cancer may not cause symptoms until it has spread.

One of the most common symptoms is difficulty passing urine. Other common symptoms include pain and confusion.

Small cell prostate cancer may also cause symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome, such as:

  • muscle cramps
  • numbness or tingling sensations in the arms and legs
  • walking difficulties
  • memory problems
  • difficulty swallowing solid foods and liquids

Most prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are slow growing tumors that develop within prostate gland cells. Small cell prostate cancer instead affects neuroendocrine cells in the prostate.

Also called small cell prostate neuroendocrine carcinoma, this type of cancer doesn’t involve elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels like other prostate cancers. This is because neuroendocrine cells don’t make PSA.

About 50% of SCCPs develop on their own within neuroendocrine cells. It’s also possible for small cell prostate cancer to develop following an existing prostate adenocarcinoma.

The average age at diagnosis is 70 years old.

Is small cell prostate cancer hereditary?

It’s not clear whether small cell prostate cancer is hereditary, but prostate cancers may have a genetic component. It’s thought that males who have immediate relatives with prostate cancer are two to three times more likely to develop the cancer themselves.

Small cell prostate cancer is more aggressive than the common variant of prostate cancer (adenocarcinoma). This means it may spread quickly from the original tumor to other parts of the body, such as the organs or bones. This is also characteristic of advanced prostate cancer stages.

In fact, at the time of cancer diagnosis, it’s common for people with SCCPs to already have metastases to the:

  • bladder
  • bowels
  • brain
  • liver
  • lungs
  • lymph nodes

To diagnose small cell prostate cancer, a doctor will order a combination of the following tests:

A doctor may also order a PSA test, but the results are usually within a typical to slightly higher range with this type of cancer.

Due to its aggressive nature, most people with small cell prostate cancer are already considered to have an advanced form. As such, the primary goal of treatment is to help reduce symptoms while preventing the cancer from spreading further.

Treatment is highly individual. It will depend on the extent of the cancer and how advanced of a stage it is. Options may include:

  • Chemotherapy: Considered the primary treatment for this type of cancer, chemotherapy consists of drugs that help shrink tumors and reduce cancer-related symptoms, such as pain. Chemotherapy may also help extend your life.
  • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy): This method uses high energy beams that may also reduce tumors. Radiation therapy may be used during or following chemotherapy treatments. It’s especially helpful in cases where prostate cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Hormone therapy: While hormone therapies may be used for most prostate cancers, doctors recommend this treatment only for cases of small cell prostate cancers that occur concurrently alongside adenocarcinoma.
  • Surgery: Advanced cases may also require the surgical removal of the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy) and one or both testicles.

SCCPs are aggressive and spread rapidly. The estimated 5-year relative survival rate for distant, or advanced, prostate cancers (most of which are adenocarcinoma, and less aggressive than small cell carcinoma of the prostate) that have spread is 34.1%.

According to one 2019 study with 260 males with SCCP, researchers reported the following survival rates:

  • 1 year: 42.1%
  • 2 years: 22.1%
  • 5 years: 12.5%

Researchers note that while the 5-year relative survival rate for small cell prostate cancer is lower than other prostate cancers, chemotherapy may increase the overall survival rate.

Since small cell prostate cancers are often in advanced stages by the time they are found, such cases aren’t considered curable. However, treatment can help prevent further progression while extending overall survival rate.

What is a relative survival rate?

A 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 70% means that someone with that condition is 70% 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.

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If you or a loved one has recently received a diagnosis of small cell prostate cancer, a doctor will likely recommend an aggressive treatment to stop the cancer from spreading further. Below are key questions you may wish to discuss with a doctor.

What is the best treatment for small cell prostate cancer?

While a small cell prostate cancer treatment plan will be based on the extent of its spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy is considered the main therapy for this type of cancer. It will likely involve a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

How long can you live with small cell prostate cancer?

The 5-year relative survival rate for advanced prostate cancers is 34.1%. Research suggests that the 5-year survival rate for small cell prostate cancer is 12.5%.

Small cell prostate cancer develops within neuroendocrine cells instead of glandular cells. While this type of prostate cancer is considered rare, it is also highly aggressive. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in reducing symptoms and increasing life span.