February 5, 2021
Curing Cancer – Dustin Diamond dies of lung cancer
10 February 2021
TV actor Dustin Diamond, age 44, died of widely disseminated (stage 4) small cell lung
cancer only one month after diagnosis (NBC News). This essay discusses, in a relatively
nontechnical manner, important aspects of this disease and prospects for future curative
treatment (MedPage Today).
What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of
abnormal cells. It is classified based on the origin of the cells that becomes malignant:
carcinoma (from cells that line or cover internal organs or are in the skin), sarcoma (from
bone or soft tissue / connective tissue), lymphoma (from lymphocytes, a type of white blood
cell) and some less common types.
What is small cell lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of US cancer death and is predicted to cause 21.7% of the
608,570 projected US cancer deaths in 2021 (Cancer Facts & Figures 2021). Lung cancer
is subclassified into nonsmall cell carcinoma (primarily squamous cell carcinoma and
adenocarcinoma) and small cell carcinoma. These categories have distinct differences in
behavior and treatment.
Small cell carcinoma of the lung arises from rare neuroendocrine cells in the respiratory tract
which receive input from nerves and produce hormones. As in Dustin’s case, it is typically
aggressive, with a poor prognosis and no curative treatment (PathologyOutlines.com-
Small cell carcinoma). Microscopically, the tumor is composed of relatively small
(compared to other cells) blue cells, which are mostly nuclei with little cytoplasm. The cells
are fragile and often appear smudged on biopsy.