Stages of Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung.
The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped breathing organs that are found within
the chest. The lungs bring oxygen into the body when breathing in and take out
carbon dioxide when breathing out. Each lung has sections called lobes. The
left lung has two lobes. The right lung, which is slightly larger, has three. A
thin membrane called the pleura surrounds the lungs. Two tubes called bronchi
lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are
sometimes also involved in lung cancer. Small tubes called bronchioles and tiny
air sacs called alveoli make up the inside of the lungs.
Anatomy of the respiratory system,
showing the trachea and both lungs and their lobes and airways. Lymph nodes and
the diaphragm are also shown. Oxygen is inhaled into the lungs and passes
through the thin membranes of the alveoli and into the bloodstream (see
There are two types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small
cell lung cancer. This summary provides information on small cell lung cancer.
(Refer to the PDQ summary on Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment for more
There are three types of small cell lung cancer.
These three types include many different types of cells. The cancer cells of
each type grow and spread in different ways. The types of small cell lung
cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells
look when viewed under a microscope:
- Small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer).
- Mixed small cell/large cell carcinoma.
- Combined small cell carcinoma.
Smoking tobacco is the major risk factor for developing small cell lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Risk factors for
small cell lung cancer include:
- Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or
pipes now or in the past.
- Being exposed to second hand smoke.
- Being exposed to asbestos or radon.
Possible signs of small cell lung cancer include coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
These and other symptoms may be caused by small cell lung cancer or by other
conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems
- A cough that doesn’t go away.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain that doesn’t go away.
- Coughing up blood.
- Swelling of the face and neck.
- Loss of appetite.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Unusual tiredness.
Tests and procedures that examine the lungs are used to detect (find) and diagnose small cell lung cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones
inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the
body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.