Why is it called “non-small” with like cancers and stuff? Why not like “large?” “Non-small” doesn’t seem very descriptive. You don’t go to McDonald’s and order “non-small” fries. They’d be like “Ok then, what fucking size do you want?”

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Why is it called “non-small” with like cancers and stuff? Why not like “large?” “Non-small” doesn’t seem very descriptive. You don’t go to McDonald’s and order “non-small” fries. They’d be like “Ok then, what fucking size do you want?”

In: Biology

There are 4 types of lung cancer, for example: oat cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

The treatment of oat cell is different, it’s what’s called a small cell cancer.

The treatment for the others is very similar, so they are called non-small cell cancers. Since large cell is a specific type, that would be a bad name to use for the group.

Medicine student here:
iI’veonly seen that when talking about carcinomas, you can have small cell carcinoma, that means a tumor, malignant and formed by small cells, that means its formed by a type of cells called ”small cells” not by cells that are small in size, so a small cell carcinoma is a tumor of ”small cells’ but the size can be whatever size it is…
So a non-small cell tumor is a tumor that is not a small cell tumor, this is a good term to use since small cell carcinomas need one treatment and non-small cell carcinomas need another
It’s like Hodgkin/non-hodgkin linfomas
when we want to talk about the size of a tumor etc we usually use the TNM scale. T for ”size” N for affected lymph nodes and M for metastasis, so you can have a T4N3M0, a tumor of size 4 with 3 affected lymph nodes and no known metastasis
The TNM system helps us decide how to treat and operate a tumor and what to expect from it

It’s important to note that small cell carcinoma is the name of a specific lung cancer. The analogy is much closer to you ordering a sandwich and the teller asking if you want it “with cheese” or “without cheese.” Non-small cell cancer means “cancer without these specific cells we call *small cells,*” not “cancer with cells of undefined size.”

Sometimes in medicine, we name things by the significant thing that they aren’t. Examples include non-small cell carcinoma of the lung, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, non-epileptic seizure, etc. Sometimes these eventually get renamed to their own disease: for example, non-tropical sprue is now commonly known as celiac disease. Sometimes it goes the other way: pseudoseizures are now commonly called non-epileptic seizure as they are not always psychogenic as the name “pseudoseizure” implies.

With lung cancer, small cell lung cancer is its own thing and behaves differently from other lung cancers. Biopsy can further differentiate them (adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, etc.), but sometimes the cancer is too advanced to get a clear etiology, or sometimes the biopsy results aren’t available, so non-small cell is generally used, especially in the earlier stages of evaluation.