Comparing Small Cell and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the country, accounting for about 1 in every 5 cancer related deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. While “lung cancer” is an umbrella term, the malignancy can be looked at as separate diseases with non-small cell lung cancer being the most common.

About 85 to 87% of lung all lung cancers are non-small cell and with a much smaller portion being small cell lung cancer,” Joelle Fathi, a nurse practitioner and Chief Healthcare Delivery Officer at GO2 For Lung Cancer, said in an interview with CURE®.

Non-small cell and small cell lung cancer cells look different under a microscope, and must be treated differently, Fathi said.

“It’s really critical to understand what the genetic makeup of those tumors are in order to direct therapy that will target that type of lung cancer and how it’s mutated,” Fathi said.

“Lung cancer cells behave in different ways, so naturally, they respond to different remedies.

Small cell lung cancer, which is commonly associated with tobacco smoke exposure, tends to be treated with chemotherapy and radiation, but treatment for non-small cell lung cancer depends on the subtype and observable mutations of the cancer.

And what we know about small cell lung cancer is that it tends to be a very fast-growing disease; it’sdifficult to catch it in the natural environment of lung cancer screening.

Because I could screen you today, and you may not have any evidence of lung cancer, and two months later, a small cell (lung cancer) could develop. Because it grows so quickly, we may not have the opportunity to catch it in an early stage by your next annual screen — it grows that fast,” Fathi explained.

“There are families and groups with long lineages of lung cancer, including people who have never smoked, who still develop lung cancer without other known risk factors. Why do these people develop lung cancer? Why is it so prevalent in certain families and groups of people remains a mystery, highlighting the need for continued research in the field”. Fathi explained.

The genetic and molecular factors behind a lung cancer diagnosis can be instrumental in determining how it is treated, as targeted therapies and immunotherapy agents continue to personalize care for patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

As new lung cancer discoveries and therapies continue to emerge, keeping patients updated on these new findings is critical, Fathi emphasized.

“One of the best things that we can do for our patients is empower them with knowledge. And when people have information, they can make informed decisions about how they approach their health care — and perhaps even more important how they can advocate for themselves,” Fathi stated.

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