Finding out you have extensive stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC) can be overwhelming. There are a lot of important decisions to make, and you may not know where to start.
First, you should learn as much as you can about SCLC. You’ll want to know the general outlook, treatment options to maintain your best quality of life, and what to expect from symptoms and side effects.
Continue reading to learn more about getting the care you need with extensive stage SCLC, including treatment, building a healthcare team, and finding emotional support.
There are many types of cancer, and they behave in different ways. It’s not enough to know you have lung cancer. You need information specific to extensive stage SCLC. That will help you make educated decisions about the next steps.
The fastest and most accurate way to get the facts about extensive stage SCLC is by talking with your medical oncologist. With access to all your current medical information and complete health history, they can give you information related to your unique situation.
Cancer can impact your loved ones as well. If you’re comfortable with the idea, invite them to participate. Bring someone to your appointment to help ask questions and get clarification where needed.
Your first point of care is usually a medical oncologist. A medical oncologist generally overseas cancer treatment. Their practice consists of a team of nurses and other healthcare practitioners to administer chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other treatments. Most will have a staff to guide you through health insurance and other financial matters, too.
Depending on your treatment plan, you may need to see other specialists as well. You won’t have to find them on your own. Your medical oncologist can make a referral to specialists such as:
- radiation oncologists
- palliative care doctors and nurses
- social workers
Give these specialists permission to coordinate care with each other and with your primary care physician. If you can, it’s a good idea to take advantage of each practice’s online portal where you can access test results, track upcoming appointments, and ask questions between visits.
Before starting on any new treatment, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the medication, including what to expect. Make sure your doctor knows what your health goals are. Find out if your goals match the suggested treatment.
Treatment can aim to cure a disease, slow its progression, or relieve symptoms. For most people with SCLC, treatment does not cure the cancer.
Surgery isn’t usually used for extensive stage SCLC. The first-line treatment is combination chemotherapy. It might also involve immunotherapy. These treatments are called systemic because they can destroy cancer cells anywhere in the body.
Radiation can be used to address particular symptoms or to prevent cancer from spreading to the brain.
Here are some questions to ask your doctor before starting treatment:
- What’s the best I can hope for with this treatment?
- What happens if I don’t get this treatment?
- How’s it given? Where? How long does it take?
- What are the most common side effects and what can we do about them?
- How will we know if it’s working? What follow-up tests will I need?
- Should I have other types of treatment at the same time?
Just about any type of treatment involves side effects. It’s wise to have a plan in place to deal with them. Here are some things to consider:
- Logistics. Know where treatment will occur and how long it will take. Arrange for transportation in advance. Don’t let transportation problems keep you from getting the therapy you need. If this is an issue for you, talk to your doctor. You can also contact the American Cancer Society and let them find a ride for you.
- Physical side effects. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and other symptoms. There may be days you can’t do things you normally do. Ask your doctor about how to manage potential side effects. Lean on family and friends to help you through the tougher days.
- Daily chores. If possible, ask someone you trust to handle financial matters, chores, and other responsibilities while you’re in treatment. When people ask if they can help, take them up on it.
By joining a clinical trial, you’ll gain access to innovative treatments you can’t get anywhere else. At the same time, you’re advancing research with the potential to benefit others today and in the future.
Your doctor can provide information on clinical trials that might be right for you. Or, you can search the National Cancer Institute’s clinical trials search page. If you’re a good fit, you can choose whether you’d like to sign up or not.
Palliative care focuses on treating any symptoms you’re experiencing to help you feel as well as possible. It doesn’t involve treating the cancer itself.
A palliative care team will work with you whether you’re undergoing other treatment or not. They’ll also coordinate with your other doctors to avoid drug interactions.
Palliative care can involve:
- pain management
- breathing support
- stress reduction
- family and caregiver support
- psychological counseling
- advance care planning
Keep cherished friends and loved ones close. Let them help wherever possible. There are also therapists who specialize in treating people with cancer. Your oncologist can make a referral.
You may also want to join a support group to hear from others who understand what you’re going through. You can participate online or in person, whichever works best for you. Ask your treatment center for a referral or search these helpful resources:
Living with cancer can feel all-consuming, but you can still get the most out of your life. Take time every day to enjoy the people around you. Continue to do the activities that you love. Live your life your way. That may be the most important form of palliative care.