Small cell lung cancers account for 20-25% of all lung cancers and are primarily diagnosed in smokers or former smokers. They differ from other types of lung cancer in that they spread very quickly throughout the body via the blood and lymphatic system. Accurate staging of small cell lung cancer is essential before definitive therapy can begin. A simple staging system is used to separate small cell lung cancer into 2 stages, referred to as limited and extensive. Limited and extensive disease are treated differently; therefore, your primary cancer doctor will perform a variety of tests to determine the stage of the disease and thus, the optimal treatment strategy. The tests will evaluate whether you have evidence of cancer in your bones, abdomen, brain and bone marrow. If these staging tests reveal no evidence of your cancer having spread outside a well-defined area in your lungs, then you will be diagnosed with limited stage small cell lung cancer. Otherwise, you will be diagnosed with extensive disease. However, it is important to understand that nearly all patients with small cell lung cancer already have cancer that has spread outside the chest, but cannot be detected with currently available diagnostic tests. Select from the following general stages of cancer in order to learn more about treatment options.
Limited Small Cell Lung Cancer: Cancer is confined to a single side of the chest
Extensive Small Cell Lung Cancer: The cancer cannot be well defined in the chest or has spread to other locations in the body.
Recurrent/Relapsed: The lung cancer has been detected or returned (recurred/relapsed) following an initial treatment.