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The terms "small cell" and "large cell" are merely descriptive terms for the appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope.
Examining and noting the characteristics of your cancer cells helps your doctor determine your type of cancer, where it began and how abnormal the cells are. When combined with tests to determine the size of the cancerous area and whether cancer has spread, this information helps determine:
Common terms used to describe the appearance of cancer cells include:
Other factors that help classify a cancer include:
Area of the body in which the cancer originated, such as the liver or breast. Cancers from certain organs may have a similar appearance.
For example, the most common type of kidney cancer is classified as clear cell. On the other hand, breast cancer rarely has a clear cell appearance. So clear cells on a breast biopsy may indicate that the cancer didn't originate in the breast but spread there (metastasized) from another area of the body, such as a kidney.
Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.
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