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Lung cancer - small cell

  • Alternative Names

    Cancer - lung - small cell; Small cell lung cancer; SCLC

    • Bloody sputum (phlegm)
    • Chest pain
    • Cough
    • Loss of appetite
    • Shortness of breath
    • Weight loss
    • Wheezing

    Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

    • Facial swelling
    • Fever
    • Hoarseness or changing voice
    • Swallowing difficulty
    • Weakness

    Signs and tests

    Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. You will be asked whether you smoke, and if so, how much and for how long you have smoked.

    When listening to your chest with a stethoscope, your health care provider can sometimes hear fluid around the lungs or areas of partial lung collapse. Each of these findings could (but does not always) suggest cancer.

    Small cell lung cancer has usually spread to other parts of your body by the time it is diagnosed.

    Tests that may be performed include:

    • Bone scan
    • Chest x-ray
    • Complete blood count (CBC)
    • CT scan
    • Liver function tests
    • MRI
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
    • Sputum test (cytology, looking for cancer cells)
    • Thoracentesis (removal of fluid from the chest cavity around the lungs)

    In some cases, your health care provider may need to remove a piece of tissue from your lungs for examination under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. There are several ways to do this:

    • Bronchoscopy combined with biopsy
    • CT scan-directed needle biopsy
    • Endoscopic esophageal ultrasound (EUS) with biopsy
    • Mediastinoscopy with biopsy
    • Open lung biopsy
    • Pleural biopsy

    Usually, if a biopsy reveals cancer, more imaging tests are done to find out the stage of the cancer. (Stage means how big the tumor is and how far it has spread.) SCLC is classified as either:

    • Limited (cancer is only in the chest and can be treated with radiation therapy)
    • Extensive (cancer has spread outside the chest)

    The majority of cases are extensive.