Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up about 13 to 15 per cent of all cancer cases globally and in India. A study conducted by a group of doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has found that this fast-spreading cancer predominantly affects males with a high smoking index. The study found that of the 361 participants, 80 per cent were former or reformed smokers. This led the researchers to conclude that smoking was the most important factor linked with SCLC. Of the participants, 65 per cent were heavy smokers. The data further established the role of smoking and its intensity in the development of this cancer variant.
The study, titled “Clinical profile of small-cell lung cancer in North India: A 12-year analysis from a tertiary care centre", was conducted over a period of 12 years. The majority of the participants were males (86.4%) with an average age of 57.3 years.
SCLC is a variant of cancer in which malignant cells begin forming in the lung tissues, starting with the breathing tubes (bronchi). This cancer tends to grow and spread faster than NSCLC. Cancer responds well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy since it proliferates quickly. However, in most people, it does return at some point or the other.
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The study indicated that the incidence of SCLC has a strong link with smoking. Since half the patients in the study were either educated up to the primary level or illiterate, the study conjectured that their lower awareness levels likely influenced smoking habits. It further said that “lower educational status negatively impacts the likelihood of patients undergoing definite investigations and disease-specific treatment, thereby translating into delayed diagnosis and higher mortality."
Researchers found that of the total patients, close to 20 per cent of the SCLC patients were non-smokers. They stated that there was evidence to suggest that prolonged exposure to particulate matter 2.5 mm (PM 2.5) is linked with an increase in lung cancer risk, especially in low and middle-income countries.
The study concluded by saying that despite SCLC cases declining over the last decade, and even after several diagnostic advancements, there is a delay in making definitive diagnoses continue to be made late. The survival rate remains poor.
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