Of those diagnoses, a mere 15% are Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC); a particularly aggressive form of the disease. All but 2% of those diagnosed with SCLC have had extensive tobacco exposure.
Nature provides us with two lungs that work so well that we are able to live with only one. This is why, along with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC), it is not until the disease is in an advanced stage that symptoms present. By that time, it may have spread to other organs, often to the brain, bones, liver or other lung. Although SCLC initially responds well to standard treatment protocol, aggressive chemotherapy, it usually has only short-term effects. It is not long before the disease returns and is even faster growing than before treatment. The life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with SCLC is under one year.
These are grim and frightening statistics. The good news is that the scientific world is giving more attention to SCLC now than ever before. Research, both in the lab and clinical trials, has led to the most significant strides in treatment in the past 30 years. Scientists are gaining a deeper understanding of the disease which can result in discovering new treatment options.
Christine M. Lovly, M.D., Ph.D. at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center notes:
“Thanks to a huge amount of preclinical work happening now and in the pipeline, we are finding better and different ways to study small cell lung cancer.”
We now know, for example, that while there is no known genetic component to the disease, new research reveals that two gene mutations – RB1 and TP53 – are always present. Other research, which has focused on immunotherapy protocols, shows promise toward successful long-term treatment. It is discoveries such as these that are bringing us closer than ever to understanding the root cause of SCLC.
According to Dr. Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,
“We have a much better understanding of the biology of small cell lung cancer thanks to lab studies demonstrating the biological part of the disease. This translates into “therapeutic hope.”