When one thinks of lung cancer, it is thought of as exactly that, however, this deadly disease comes in many shapes and forms, however. The two types of lung cancer that most variations fall under are the non small cell lung carcinoma, or cancer, and the small cell lung cancer (carcinoma), abbreviated as SCLC. The latter has also been called oat cell carcinoma for its "oat cereal like" appearance on the lung. SCLC is the less common of the two types of cancer, but it can be more difficult to treat and cure, as it is a more aggressive type of cancer. Statistics vary, but it is generally agreed that between 15% - 20% of all lung cancer cases are the small cell carcinomas.
So what are the most common risk factors that can lead to the growth of small cell lung cancer (SCLC)?
Smoking - Small cell lung cancer is often associated with a lung cancer that has grown due to an individual's habit of smoking. This may be the most important risk factor. Nicotine is the addictive part of the cigarette, but there are numerous known carcinogens (chemicals that are known to cause cancer) in the tobacco of a cigarette, cigar, or "chew". A carcinogen is a chemical that can alter a cells "make-up" or DNA, in an unhealthy manner. By altering the cells in the body, these abnormal cells change the normal, healthy life of a body cell. The abnormal cells can become cancerous and spread within the organ or to other organs and tissues in the body. If a small cell lung cancer cannot be treated and stopped, death may occur.
Radiation - Radiation can be a useful tool medically, but it can also be a risk factor in the development of this type of cancer. Ionizing radiation, in particular, is the form of radiation to blame. As ionization is the ability of the radiation to alter a cell's make-up by removing an electron from it, this can lead to a death of a cell, or a mutation of the cell that then renders it cancerous and it multiplies. While there is controversy over whether or not any non-ionizing radiation can contribute to cancer, it is generally assumed that it does not. Interestingly, ionizing radiation such as x-rays are used to diagnose and treat cancers of the lung, as they have that same ability to kill cells, in this case, the cancer cells when well-targeted during therapy.
Poor Nutrition - A diet that is lacking in the necessary nutrients to sustain and grow healthy cells throughout the body can contribute to the proliferation of small cell lung cancer. Cells in the lungs rely on the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in order for us to breathe properly. If the body cells that contribute to this exchange are not healthy, this important function can be hampered. As cells become weaker due to poor food habits, the environment becomes more unstable and prone to the growth of cancer cells.
Asbestos - While asbestos is really a mixture of minerals that are natural to our environment, when inhaled by a human lung it is a potential hazard to one's health, as asbestos is made up of very tiny fibers which can interact with the lung cells and cause irritation. This irritation can stimulate cells to become cancerous and create an environment for small cell cancer to grow.
By educating oneself to the general risk factors of small cell lung cancer, it is always hoped that an individual will avoid the practices that lead to this deadly cancer, while seeking medical treatment if there is any concern about one's own personal risk factors.
The Royal Brompton Hospital is one of the world's leading heart and lung centres, renowned for its expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. If you're looking for more information about early lung cancer symptoms visit us today.