What are the symptoms of metastatic small cell lung cancer (SCLC)?

Updated: Jun 17, 2019
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Common sites of hematogenous metastases include the brain, bones, liver, adrenal glands, and bone marrow. The symptoms depend upon the site of spread.

Neurologic dysfunction can occur due to brain metastases or spinal cord compression. Patients with symptomatic brain metastases may have raised intracranial pressure secondary to mass lesions and vasogenic edema. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Headache - Usually worse in the morning
  • Blurred vision
  • Photophobia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Localizing symptoms - Such as extremity weakness

Suspected spinal cord compression is an oncologic emergency. Early recognition of vertebral and paraspinal metastases is important, because a delay in diagnosis and treatment frequently results in permanent loss of neurologic function. The initial symptom is usually back pain, with or without neurologic dysfunction. Once present, neurologic dysfunction can progress very rapidly (ie, within hours) to cause quadriplegia or paraplegia, depending upon the location of the lesion.

Other symptoms from distant metastasis may include pain from bone metastasis, as well as jaundice or abdominal/right upper quadrant pain due to liver metastasis.

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