Thursday, September 17, 2009

Small Lung Cancer

Small Lung CancerSmall cell lung cancer ( Small Lung Cancer ) is a disease in which the cells of the lung tissues grow uncontrollably and form tumors. Lung cancer is divided into two main types: small cell and non-small cell. Small cell lung cancer is the least common of the two, accounting for only about 20% of all lung cancers. In the past, the disease was called oat cell cancer because, when viewed under a microscope, the cancer cells resemble oats. This type of lung cancer grows quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body.

The lungs are located along with the heart in the chest cavity. The lungs are not simply hollow balloons, but have a very organized structure consisting of hollow tubes, blood vessels, and elastic tissue. The hollow tubes, called bronchi, are multi-branched, becoming smaller and more numerous at each branching. They end in tiny, blind sacs made of elastic tissue called alveoli. These sacs are where the oxygen a person breathes in is taken up into the blood, and where carbon dioxide moves out of the blood to be breathed out.

Normal, healthy lungs are continually secreting mucus that not only keeps the lungs moist, but also protects the lungs by trapping foreign particles like dust and dirt in breathed air. The inside of the lungs is covered with small, hair-like structures called cilia. The cilia move in such a way that mucus is swept up out of the lungs and into the throat.

Small cell lung tumors usually start to develop in the central bronchi. They grow quickly and prevent the lungs from functioning at their full capacity. Tumors may block the movement of air through the bronchi in the lungs. As a result, less oxygen gets into the blood and patients feel short of breath. Tumors may also block the normal movement of mucus into the throat. As a result, mucus builds up in the lungs and infection may develop behind the tumor.

Small cell lung cancer is an aggressive disease that spreads quickly. Symptoms depend on the tumor's location within the lung, and on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. More than 80% of small cell lung cancer patients have symptoms for only three months or less, and few cases are detected early. The following symptoms are the most commonly reported by small cell lung cancer patients at the time of their diagnosis:

a cough that does not go away
chest pain
shortness of breath and wheezing
persistent hoarseness
fatigue and loss of appetite (anorexia)

Although some patients may experience bloody spit or phlegm, this symptom is more commonly seen in patients with other types of lung cancer.

Small cell tumors often press against a large blood vessel near the lungs called the superior vena cava (SVC), causing a condition known as SVC syndrome. This condition may cause patients to retain water, cough, and have shortness of breath. Because small cell lung cancer often spreads quickly to the bones and central nervous system, patients may also have bone pain, headaches, and seizures.

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