Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer worldwide.
Of the 220,000 new cases diagnosed each year, Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) accounts for 15% of cases. As an aggressive form of lung cancer, better therapies are needed desperately.
Finding Better Treatments for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Nature provides us with two lungs that work so well that we are able to live with only one. This is why it is not until the disease is in an advanced stage that symptoms present, in both Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). By that time, it may have spread to other organs, often to the brain, bones, liver or other lung. But there is hope – the continued research by scientists is yielding a deeper understanding of SCLC, so that better treatments can be discovered.
What is Small Cell Lung Cancer, and why is it so tough to treat?
Small cell lung cancer is one of the two major types of lung cancer – the other type being non-small cell lung cancer. SCLC is an uncontrolled proliferation of small cells in the lung. In contrast, NSCLC occurs in non-small cells like glandular cells in the case of adenocarcinoma, or squamous cells, like in squamous cell carcinoma. About 15% of all lung cancer cases are classified as SCLC, also known as oat cell cancer, and usually presents more aggressively than NSCLC.
There are a few factors that contribute to the difficulty in treating SCLC. Since lung cancer screening is generally uncommon and symptoms usually don’t present themselves until the later stages, patients don’t know that they have SCLC until it’s more difficult to treat. And once the diagnosis is known, the disease is particularly problematic because the particular mutations in SCLC suppress the natural mechanism our cells have to stop uncontrolled cell growth.
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.
Learn about the SCLC research underway
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.”