What Is Small Cell Cancer?


Quick Answer

Small-cell cancer is a disease in the tissues of the lungs, according to the National Cancer Institute. Smoking is the leading cause of small-cell lung cancer, which is represented by such symptoms as coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

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Full Answer

Small-cell lung cancer is diagnosed by physical exam, laboratory tests or chest x-rays, states the National Cancer Institute. The disease may also be detected by other methods, including CT scan, examining a mucus sample under a microscope or a biopsy of cells removed from the lungs.

Most small-cell cancers cannot be cured with current treatments. The prognosis depends on the stage of cancer, whether it has spread to other areas of the body and the patient's age, gender and general health. According to the National Cancer Institute, small-cell cancer can spread to nearby tissues or by traveling through the lymph system or the blood.

Small-cell cancer is categorized as limited if it is confined to the lung where it started, the area between the lungs or the lymph nodes above the collarbone. It is considered to be in the extensive stage if it has grown beyond those areas. The stage of the cancer refers to its status when it was found, according to the American Cancer Society.

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