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Small cell and non-small cell?

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Old 03-16-2005, 08:42 AM   #1
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 6
SteveYoung HB User
Small cell and non-small cell?

My fiancee's mum was diagnosed with brest cancer and lung cancer last week. She goes in to have a biopsy tomorrow, but as she's beaten breast cancer before we're all feeling quite positive about that one.

It's the lung cancer that really scares us. She has breathing difficulties, and we're being told that the hospital won't operate unless her breathing improves. So she's due in on Monday to have some breathing tests, walking on a treadmill, etc, to assess her fitness. We don't think Monday will be anything more sinister than that, but we're still scared. Probably fear of the unknown, so I'd like to ask a few questions here if I could:

She's been told she has non-small cell cancer in her lung (they used a different word, 'carcinoma'). Now apparently there are two types, small cell and non-small cell. I have no idea what the difference is, can anyone tell me please?

She also says she's been told that the only way to sort the cancer out is to remove the lung. Is this right?

We're scared that she won't survive the operation, or won't survive for long on one lung. But on the other hand, we're wondering whether it could be the cancer itself that's causing her breathing problems, could that be the case? And if so, would her breathing actually improve if the lung came out?

The other question, which I'm dreading asking, is how long does she have if they decide not to operate?

Would really appreciate anything you could tell me, even if it's bad news. Because right now, we know absolutely nothing, and we're terrified.

Last edited by SteveYoung; 03-16-2005 at 08:55 AM.

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Old 03-16-2005, 09:05 AM   #2
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 156
Ivana HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

I'm sorry to hear about your fiance's mom. It's certainly a difficult and confusing time. Non small cell lung cancer is much more common and often more easily treatable than than small cell lung cancer. That said, ever person reacts differently to treatment and removing the lung is sometimes what needs to be done. What is likely to happen after removing a lung is that she will need to be on oxygen to supply her body with the necessary amount and to ease her overall breathing and to reduce the stress on the remaining lung and heart. Many people have lived a very long time with diminshed lung capacity so I don't want you to be scared about that.

I suggest you do a general search on the internet for non small cell lung cancer and you will fing plenty of info.

Hang in prayers are with you and your fiance's family. Keep us posted

Old 03-16-2005, 03:05 PM   #3
Senior Member
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Louisville, KY
Posts: 283
renee_ky HB Userrenee_ky HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

Ivan has given you good advice. I will just add one thing. While small cell is harder to treat then non-small cell, it does respond better to chemo therapy then non-small cell does. If the lung can be removed, and "possibly" followed up by chemo, that is a good thing, as horrible as it sounds. She will eb able to survive with one lung.

(From ther web, maybe helpful to you) Current treatments for lung cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted molecular therapy. Available therapies rarely achieve response rates better than 20-30%, and therefore most patients will also require additional therapies to treat recurrent disease. Surgical and radiation treatments focus on targeting a tumor at a specific site and may be limited in their effectiveness if cancer cells are left behind at the site of treatment or if the cancer has spread beyond its initial site. Chemotherapy can treat cancers at multiple sites but typically results in severe side effects because healthy cells and tissues, as well as cancer cells, are destroyed. In most cases, chemotherapy can only reduce tumor size and may not eliminate tumors completely, resulting in disease recurrence.

Prayers are with you!

Old 03-17-2005, 07:56 PM   #4
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 176
shadowrose40 HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?


Surgery has to be the decision of the patient. It's not the ONLY option, but it's certainly the one that I'd choose.

You don't mention if she has other lung problems? Emphysema? Other lung difficulties increase the risk of removing a lung.

They can also do surgery to remove the tumor and lobe that it's in. The entire lobe doesn't necessarily need to be removed.

Non-small cell is easier to treat, too, from what I understand. Small cell is more agressive.

As with other medical conditions, a second opinion is always a good idea, especially when something major is going on.

Have they done a PET scan to see if the cancer is seen elsewhere? Has she been staged? Is the breast cancer mets from the lung, or vice versa. These are all questions to be answered by the doctor, of course.

Best of luck

Old 03-21-2005, 08:27 AM   #5
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 6
SteveYoung HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

Thanks everyone for your messages of support, it really is appreciated.

Thanks also for giving me some idea of what small cell lung cancer actually is. To be honest, i don't really know a lot about it. My fiancee talks to her mum a lot, and I try to glean what information I can, but I'm trying not to probe too much. My role in all this is to try and be there for Julie, who in turn is trying to stay strong for her mum, and I've come to the conclusion that pushing Julie for information probably isn't going to help her, because she's understandably upset about it all.

We have had some good news though - last week's biopsy showed that the 'breast cancer' was in fact just scar tissue from when she underwent surgery for breast cancer five years ago. So that's a huge relief to us all.

Today's tests were all about gauging the strength of mum's lungs, and whether she would be strong enough for surgery. Apparently she went onto a treadmill, and was hooked up to various its of breath-measuring kit. I've just heard from Julie that mum has gone back home, and expects the results from that next week. We're all keeping our fingers crossed...

Thanks again everyone, you're a great help.

Old 04-05-2005, 05:03 AM   #6
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 6
SteveYoung HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

An update - we had the results last week, and I'm sorry to say that the hospital will not be operating. Mum's breathing isn't strong enough for her to be able to have the lung taken out.

Deep down, we know what it means, but we're trying not to think about it. Somehow it doesn't seem real; she's still as bright as a button, still has her fabulous sense of humour, and she looks and sounds no different now than she did six months ago. But now, she's dying. I really can't quite wrap my head around that...

One thing the hospital are doing, is putting her onto a course of radiography. Twenty sessions, one per day, five days a week, for four weeks. It starts in a couple of weeks time, so we're keeping our fingers crossed...

Old 04-05-2005, 10:27 AM   #7
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 6
keithblum HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

I know what you mean. My mother was diagnosed last Nov. 2004 and is currenetly going through chemo. My family and I know the end result, we're just hoping it's not for a while. The whole thing is very strange. My mom is the same as she was last year at this time, no different, even on chemo. It's scary waiting for the inevitible. We just cling on to hope-that maybe she'll be one of the lucky 15% who will be around in 5 years.

Old 07-22-2005, 06:49 AM   #8
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 6
SteveYoung HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

It's been a while since I've posted anything on here, but at last we do have some news.

Mavis went in to start her four week radiography treatment back in April; this went on until about the middle of May. Since then, we've all been sitting and waiting. Waiting for the radiation to do whatever it's supposed to do, waiting for the next appointment, waiting to find out how successful it had been.

At first, Mavis was feeling very tired as the radiation had been taking it's toll on her. And then for the first week or so after finishing the course, she still felt pretty low. But then as the weeks went on, she's started to look a bit better, look a bit brighter. Part of that is that it's now summer (such as it is!) here in England, and she does try to get out and about as much as she can. She even came flying with us a few weeks ago, and had a go at holding the aeroplane straight and level (did quite well too). So we've been doing our best to try and keep her mind off it, but meanwhile, we've all been getting more and more on edge, waiting for the results.

Two weeks ago, we were told that she would have to go back in to the hospital for the results on Thursday 21st July. The days leading up to yesterday have been quite fraught. We have other problems going on at home right now, and it's all been adding up to make quite a stressful environment, and so we were dreading yesterdays news. Fearing the worst...

But at about 11am yesterday morning, Julie phoned me at work to say that the hospital *thought* that it was looking quite positive. The radiation is still taking effect, and will continue to do so for another couple of months, so it's too early to say for sure, but the indications are that the cancer is under some sort of control. Mavis goes back in for an x-ray on 8th September, and then another one six weeks after that.

For the first time since we were told of the diagnosis back in March, we're feeling positive. It feels as though a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We know there's still a way to go, but... well... where there was despair, there is now hope. And I cannot tell you much that means to us...

Old 07-22-2005, 04:11 PM   #9
Senior Veteran
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Evansville IN
Posts: 504
rockie HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

HI Steve, nsclc is a slower growing cancer but nontheless an invasive one. Sadly, by the time a lot of people are diagnosed, it is in its advanced stages. My husband has 3b non small lung cancer. He has gone thru 12 weeks of chemo and today, when I spoke with his onc, he said that with remission (which is where my honey is) he can go 4 months to "hopefully" 2 yrs..maybe 18 months. The stats are all that they are. But each individual responds differently and might be the odd-ball that defeats those hang in there and help her defeat the odds. Prayers to you and yours, I am thinking of you...

Jan in So. Indiana

Old 08-10-2005, 05:54 AM   #10
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Old Orchard,Maine
Posts: 2
sjdikeman HB User
Re: Small cell and non-small cell?

Please let me intoduce myself,I used to belong to one of these boards but kind of got caught up in my own life.Now I feel terrible as I proably could have helped .I was dianosed with large cell,undiffferentiated cancer in July of 1993, Had an excellent doctor,who removed my complete left lung in August.
Was very scary as I had difficult time breathing,but about Dec,that year I was doing vrey well in fact went back to work in the last week of Jan.,light duty.
I'm very happy to report,Thank God,that I am still here and doing very well.
If I can be of any help to anyone I'll stay in touch. Sandra

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