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  • Dustin Diamond, who was 44, was diagnosed with stage 4 small cell carcinoma, lexapro help stop taking a type of lung cancer, about 3 weeks ago.
  • Diamond had been hospitalized early January and completed one round of chemotherapy. The disease had already spread rapidly throughout his body.
  • Lung cancer is most common in people over the age of 65 and is very rare in younger people.

Dustin Diamond, the actor who played Samuel “Screech” Powers in “Saved by the Bell,” died Monday, Feb. 1, just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.

Diamond, who was 44, was diagnosed with stage 4 small cell carcinoma, a type of lung cancer, about 3 weeks ago.

Diamond’s manager told People the actor had been experiencing widespread bodily pain and had noticed a lump on his neck.

Diamond had been hospitalized early January and completed one round of chemotherapy. The disease had already spread rapidly throughout his body.

This type of cancer is more common in older adults. It’s often diagnosed in an advanced stage in younger people, many of whom are nonsmokers.

“This diagnosis certainly can happen to someone in their 40s, and not necessarily in those who have smoked cigarettes in the past,” Dr. Henry S.Park, a radiation oncologist in the Department of Therapeutic Radiology at Yale Medicine, told Healthline.

Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the United States, and while it’s often stigmatized as a condition of people who smoke cigarettes, it can occur in anyone at any age.

Lung cancer is rare in younger people

Lung cancer is most common in people over the age of 65 and is very rare in younger people, according to Park.

The average age of diagnosis is 70.

“The age distribution is as follows: 53 percent of cases occur in adults 55 to 74, 37 percent occur in those over 75, and 10 percent of lung cancers occur in people under 55,” said Dr. Wasif M. Saif, deputy physician-in-chief and director of medical oncology at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

Most cases of lung cancer are caused by heavy smoking, but younger people diagnosed with lung cancer are far more likely to be nonsmokers, Saif said.

Genetics likely play a role. Secondhand smoke, family history, and radon exposure may also be contributing factors, according to Saif.

The disease is diagnosed late in younger people

Diamond was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, meaning it had already metastasized and spread throughout his body.

According to Park, nearly 40 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed as stage 4, which is the most advanced state of the condition.

Dr. Osita Onugha, a thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgical oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said this type of cancer typically presents in advanced stages.

“Often lung cancer may not cause any symptoms until it has already spread,” Park said.

The mass identified in Diamond’s neck suggests the disease was already widespread. Though lung cancer can grow slowly, it can also progress rapidly and spread through the lymph nodes, blood, and beyond the lungs, Park said.

“It is a very aggressive cancer that spreads rapidly,” Onugha said.

Early signs include difficulty breathing, a persistent cough, coughing up blood, chronic respiratory infections, a lump around the throat or neck, and chest pain.

Unfortunately, most people don’t experience or recognize these early signs, but “lung cancer screening can be used to catch lung cancer early in smokers,” Onugha said.

People eligible for lung cancer screening include people ages 55 to 77 who are active smokers (smoking over 30 packs a year) or have quit within the past 15 years, according to Onugha.

What the prognosis is like

The prognosis in young people, even with a stage 4 diagnosis, is typically better than older people with the same condition.

If caught early, small cell cancer can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, and in some cases, surgery, Onugha said.

If the cause is genetics as opposed to smoking, Saif said drugs targeting these abnormalities can be administered.

Younger people are usually treated more aggressively and are better able to tolerate these medications compared to older adults.

“Overall, the prognosis is unfortunately not great unless it is caught early,” Onugha said.

It’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately if there are any early signs or symptoms, if you have a family history of lung cancer, or if you’ve been routinely exposed to secondhand smoke.

“This stands for either one is a smoker or not, and if caught earlier the chances are higher to fight this disease,” Saif said.

The bottom line 

Dustin Diamond, the actor who played Samuel “Screech” Powers in “Saved by the Bell,” died Monday, Feb. 1, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

Diamond, who was 44, was diagnosed with stage 4 small cell carcinoma a few weeks ago.

Though the actor had started chemotherapy, the cancer had already spread throughout his body.

Most cases of lung cancer, especially in younger people, are diagnosed in an advanced form as there often aren’t early signs or symptoms.

The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better the prognosis — but small cell carcinoma is an aggressive type of cancer.


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