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Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Small-Cell Lung Cancer Treatment continued...

Surgery plays little, if any, role in the management of small-cell lung cancer because almost all cancers have spread by the time they are discovered.

The exceptions are the relatively small number of people (less than 15%) whose cancer is discovered at a very early stage of the disease, when the cancer is confined to the lung without any spread to the lymph nodes. However, surgery alone is not considered curative, so chemotherapy is also given. Sometimes radiation therapy will also be needed if the cancer had spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

Other Therapy

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-dose X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation can be given from outside the body using a machine (external radiation therapy), or it can be given with the help of radiation-producing materials that are implanted inside the body (brachytherapy).

Radiation therapy can be curative (kills all cancer cells), prophylactic (reduces the risk of cancer spreading to the area to which it is given), or palliative (helps reduce suffering).

Next Steps

Follow-up 

  • Patients who are receiving chemotherapy require close monitoring for side effects and response to therapy.
  • A blood workup, including CBC (complete blood count), is needed prior to each cycle of chemotherapy to ensure that the bone marrow has recovered before the next dose of chemotherapy is given. 
  • Kidney function is monitored, especially if the patient is taking cisplatin, as it can damage the kidneys. Also, carboplatin's dosage is based upon kidney function.
  • The patient will undergo a CT scan to assess their response to treatment
  • Other tests are performed to monitor liver function and electrolytes -- especially sodium and magnesium levels -- due to the effects of the cancer and its treatment.

Palliative and terminal care

Because small-cell lung cancer is diagnosed in most people when it is not curable, palliative care becomes important. The goal of palliative and terminal care is to manage pain and discomfort and enhance quality of life.

Palliative care not only focuses on comfort but also addresses the concerns of the patient’s family and loved ones. Caregivers may include family and friends in addition to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals.

Palliative and terminal care is often given in a hospital, hospice, or nursing home; however, it can also be provided at home.

The following organizations can help with palliative and terminal care:

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
(800) 658-8898 (Helpline)
nhpco_info@nhpco.org

Hospice Association of America
(202) 546-4759

Hospice Education Institute
(800) 331-1620
info@hospiceworld.org

Hospice Net
info@hospicenet.org

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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