Actor Dustin Diamond, most commonly known for his portrayal of Samuel "Screech" Powers on the 90's hit Saved By The Bell, has been diagnosed with stage 4 small cell carcinoma, his rep, Roger Paul, told NBC News Thursday. The news of the 44-year-old actor's advanced-stage lung cancer was initially reported first reported by TMZ, after he finished his first round of chemotherapy.
Diamond's health came into the spotlight last week after his team shared shared a statement on the actor's Facebook page on January 14, reading: "At this time we can confirm that Dustin does have cancer. Dustin Will disclose more information once it is available and a plan moving forward is made… We ask everyone to respect Dustin's privacy during this difficult time. All positivity and prayers are appreciated."
Diamond is currently awaiting his next round of chemotherapy, and will soon begin physical therapy as well, Paul told NBC News. "Dustin is looking forward to spending more time with his girlfriend, playing his bass guitar/video games, as well as making videos for his fans on social media," he added.
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What is small cell carcinoma?
Small cell carcinoma (sometimes referred to as oat cell cancer) is a type of small cell lung cancer—one of two types of lung cancer in general. The other, non-small cell lung cancer, is the most common type of lung cancer, according to the US National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus resource. Small cell lung cancer is less common, and makes up about 20% of all lung cancer cases.
Lung cancer in general is already the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women, and small cell lung cancer is a faster-growing, more aggressive type of lung cancer than non-small cell lung cancer. This type of cancer usually starts in the breathing tubes, or bronchi, in the center of the chest, per MedlinePlus. "We often see masses in the mid-chest," Nicholas Rohs, MD, attending physician in hematology and oncology at Mount Sinai Downtown-Chelsea Center in New York City previously told Health.
Though the cancer cells are small, they can grow quickly and create large tumors, sometimes spreading rapidly (aka, metastasizing) to other parts of the body, like the liver, brain, and bones. Diamond's stage 4 diagnosis means that his cancer has begun to metastasize, or spread.
According to MedlinePlus, almost all cases of small cell lung cancer are a result of smoking, and only vary rarely diagnosed in someone who has never smoked. "If we see it in a non-smoker, we ask 'are you sure?' and recheck the pathology reports," Gregory Kalemberian, MD, clinical professor of medicine in hematology/oncology at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, previously told Health. The more "pack years" you smoke (defined as the number of packs smoked per day per year), the greater the risk of small cell, added Dr. Rohs.
Dustin Diamond stage 4 lung cancer , UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – MAY 16: Dustin Diamond visits "Extra" at Universal Studios Hollywood on May 16, 2016 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
What are the symptoms of small cell lung cancer?
Lung cancer typically won't show any symptoms until later stages of the disease and are largely similar between men and women. Common symptoms of small cell lung cancer specifically, per MedlinePlus, include:
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood (aka, bloody sputum)
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Facial swelling
- Hoarseness or changing voice
- Difficulty swallowing
TMZ reported that Diamond was hospitalized following "feeling pain all over his body and a general sense of unease."
How is small cell lung cancer diagnosed?
Lung cancers are usually caught after they've already spread but regular lung cancer screenings can help detect the disease in its earlier stages, previously reported by Health. A large clinical trial revealed that a low-dose CT scan (LDCT), was shown to lower the chances of dying from lung cancer in people at high risk for the disease by about 20% compared to chest X-rays. If you are over the age of 55, are in fairly good health, have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years, and are either still smoking or have quit within the last 15 years, you may be a candidate for lung cancer screening, according to the American Cancer Society.
Unfortunately, in cases of small cell lung cancer, the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body by the time it gets diagnosed. Some of the tests that may be performed, per MedlinePlus, include: a bone scan, chest X-ray, CT scan, and MRI scan, among others. Past that, doctors will also perform a biopsy (removing a piece of tissue from the lungs and examining it under a microscope), and then, if the biopsy shows cancer, more tests to determine the cancer's staging and spreading.
How is small cell lung cancer treated?
For those with small cell lung cancer, or more specifically, small cell carcinoma, treatment often includes chemotherapy and radiation, though this treatment regimen is only used to lessen symptoms and help the patient live longer, as the cancer almost always returns in the future according to the American Cancer Society.
Regarding the overall prognosis of small cell lung cancer, MedlinePlus says it really depends on how much the cancer has spread by the time of diagnosis. Most people will not survive past five years with the disease, though treatment can help prolong life for six to 12 months. In some very rare cases, and if its diagnosed extremely early, treatment of small cell lung cancer can be enough for a long-term cure. Overall though, the best way to avoid small cell lung cancer is to avoid smoking at all costs, and quit now if you still currently smoke.
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