Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment
The treatment of small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is aimed at slowing down the disease and prolonging a person’s life rather than curing it. It’s the slowest growing form of lung cancer but spreads very easily to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Chemotherapy is the main medical treatment, backed up by radiotherapy. Chemotherapy uses very strong anti-cancer drugs to blitz the cancer cells and stop them from spreading.
There are dozens of chemo drugs available and these can be given in isolation or as a combination cocktail to maximize the effects. Some people take them in tablet form but most patients are given them via an injection into the vein at regular intervals.
Some people might have chemo every week for several weeks depending on how aggressive the cancer is. This is followed by a period without treatment to allow the body to cope with and recover from any side effects. And chemotherapy does have some unpleasant side effects, the most common being hair loss, nausea and general tiredness. It’s also possible for a person’s immune system to be shot to pieces as the chemo can kill off healthy disease fighting cells as well as the cancer ones.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many people may be able to lead a normal life during their treatment and the symptoms do go away after the treatment has finished.
Radiotherapy Treatment for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Radiotherapy is a more specific treatment using high energy rays aimed at the lung area to destroy the cancer cells. In the majority of cases it’s given after chemotherapy.
Because small cell lung cancer is usually well advanced by the time it is diagnosed, radiotherapy is usually given to control symptoms in one or two treatments.
It is very common for SCLC to spread to the brain. If detected early enough and chemotherapy is proving successful in alleviating the symptoms, doctors may recommend a person have radiotherapy on the brain to lower the risk of the cancer working its way there. This is known as prophylactic cranial irradiation (in other words radiation to prevent the cancer reaching the brain).
Limited SCLC which has not spread outside the chest area has about an 85% response rate to very intensive chemotherapy and remission occurs in about 60% of cases.
For those who have been successfully treated with chemo and radiotherapy, around 30% survive two years. This drops to 15% after five years.
Treatment for Advanced Small Cell Lung Cancer
It’s very unlikely that advanced SCLC will respond to chemotherapy. If it does the effects are limited. For the majority of people with advanced SCLC life expectancy is just ten months after first diagnosis, making it a very quick and cruel disease.
Surgery is not usually an option for someone with this type of lung cancer. Surgery is only ever useful if the cancer has not spread and is still very localized. Unfortunately in the majority of cases, SCLC is not diagnosed until it is fairly advanced, ruling out any possibility of surgery.