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What Is Small Cell Adenocarcinoma?

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  • Written By: Andy Josiah
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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Small cell adenocarcinoma refers to a type of cancer that is characterized by tumors comprising small egg-shaped or round cells with a small amount of a thick liquid called cytoplasm. Two of its most common alternate terms are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and small cell carcinoma. Although the former indicates the most popular site of occurrence, small cell adenocarcinoma is capable of appearing on any part of the body that has epithelial tissue.

Also known as the epithelium, epithelial tissue is one of the major tissues of the body, used to cover the organs and inner surfaces of the body. While the term carcinoma refers to the cancer that develops from epithelium, adenocarcinoma specifically refers to carcinoma that develops from specialized epithelial tissue called squamous epithelium. This is tissue characterized by cells that have a flat and scaly structure, and they are usually found in organs and glands.

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One of the major sites of squamous epithelium is the lungs, which is why small cell adenocarcinoma is usually associated with this organ. When small cell adenocarcinoma occurs in the lungs, it can also be referred to as oat cell carcinoma, which is another description of the shape of the cancer cells. It is almost always caused by cigarette smoking, thus people lessen their risk of catching the disease by not smoking at all. With SCLC, the cancer starts in the bronchi, or passages that transport air into the lungs. According to the United States' National Institute of Health (NIH), small cell adenocarcinoma accounts for about 15 percent of all lung cancer cases.

The lung is not the only place where small cell adenocarcinoma can occur. Since adenocarcinoma tends to originate in tissue that line glands, the prostate and pancreas are other prominent sites of occurrence. These types of small cell adenocarcinoma are exceedingly rare, though. In all cases, small cell adenocarcinoma is considered highly metastatic, which means that it has a great propensity for spreading to other parts of the body. Also, the disease tends to be diagnosed when it has metastasized or is at an advanced stage.

There are certain symptoms, however, to look out for, including chest pain, coughing, breathing and swallowing difficulties, appetite loss and weakness. Physicians usually rely on tests such as bone and computed tomography (CT) scans, chest x-rays, blood counts or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to diagnose the disease, and treat it with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Regardless of the affected organ or gland or the stage of disease progression, the prognosis for small cell adenocarcinoma is generally poor. Only about one to 20 percent of patients live beyond five years after completion of treatment.

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