Why Can Small Cell Lung Cancer Be Challenging To Treat?
Last updated: December 2020
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up roughly 13 percent of all lung cancers. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among men and women and is the number 1 cause of cancer-related death among both men and women in the United States.1,2
How do SCLC treatments differ?
New treatment advancements have been generally slower for SCLC compared to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC can be hard to treat for a variety of reasons. These challenges contribute to the lethality of the disease, which is devastating.
It is important to remember that everyone's cancer experience is different and statistics do not often tell the whole story. Be sure to talk with your doctor about different SCLC treatment options.
Here, we examine 4 general reasons why SCLC can be hard to treat and can present a challenge to both doctors and those diagnosed with lung cancer.
1) It is aggressive and spreads quickly
SCLC is an aggressive tumor that spreads quickly and early in the disease. This makes surgery to remove it hard and sometimes impossible.
Cancer medicine is based on targeting parts of the cancer cell or building blocks in order to stop its growth and eventually kill it. In SCLC, parts of the building blocks are different or missing, making it hard for doctors to find medicine to treat and kill the tumors.3-5
There are some medications that are used to treat SCLC. Many people with SCLC have a good response to these medications at first. Unfortunately, SCLC often recurs and treatment after the first time is not as successful.4
2) Screening is not as widely available as some cancers
Unlike some cancers, SCLC does not have widespread screening. The only screening available to date is a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan, which uses a small amount of radiation to take pictures of the lungs.
Unfortunately, there are flaws to this type of screening. Some of these include:5-3
- Suggesting a person has cancer who does not.
- Finding other cancers that may have never caused problems.
- Radiation over time, even in small doses, can cause cancer in people who are otherwise healthy.
3) Symptoms of the disease may be missed
Symptoms of SCLC are often not specific and people may not go to the doctor for the symptoms they are having. When people do go to the doctor, screening is not widely available. The combination of these factors makes it easier for SCLC to go undetected.6
4) New treatments are not coming fast enough
Cancer treatments are constantly evolving. New research and treatment options for various cancers occur often. A frustrating reason why SCLC is hard to treat is the fact that these new treatment options are not happening at a quick enough rate. While some new treatments have been developed, the overall survival rate of those with SCLC has pretty much stayed the same.
There are many factors that need to be considered when looking at why SCLC is hard to treat. Improving early detection, screening, and treatment options will be a big step in the right direction for improving treatment and overall survival of SCLC. There is a rapid movement of cancer developments in general. But for those with SCLC and for those who love them, these developments can not come soon enough.7
Doctors are optimistic
Doctors are optimistic that treatments will improve over the next five years. New treatment using immunotherapy and clinical trials looks promising. It is important for doctors and researchers to keep moving forward in order to make new treatment options available to those living with SCLC.3
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