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'Saved By The Bell' star Dustin Diamond, 44, dies from small-cell carcinoma: signs and symptoms of this type of cancer

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  • Dustin Diamond
    Dustin Diamond
    American actor, musician, director, and stand-up comedian

Dustin Diamond has died from small cell carcinoma cancer, his representative has confirmed.

The 44-year-old was best known for playing Samuel “Screech” Powers in the popular 1990s US sitcom Saved By The Bell.

A statement from Diamond’s representative Roger Paul revealed he had completed a first round of chemotherapy after recently being diagnosed with lung cancer.

But his condition had deteriorated fast in the last week.

“We are saddened to confirm of Dustin Diamond's passing on Monday, February 1st, 2021 due to carcinoma,” Paul told AP News.

“He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago.

“In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”

Dustin Diamond has passed away from small cell carcinoma, lung cancer, pictured in May 2016. (Getty Images)
Dustin Diamond has passed away from small cell carcinoma, lung cancer, pictured in May 2016. (Getty Images)

The actor was hospitalised in Florida in January to undergo tests after he noticed “a huge lump on his throat,” his rep said at the time.

His team later disclosed in a Facebook statement that Diamond had cancer.

A rep for the Saved By The Bell alum told Yahoo Entertainment earlier this month that tests determined the former child star was suffering from stage 4 small cell carcinoma cancer, commonly referred to as lung cancer.

What is small cell carcinoma cancer?

Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer, according to the NHS, with approximately 47,000 people diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.

Cancer that begins in the lungs is called primary lung cancer and there are two main forms of primary lung cancer determined by the type of cells in which the cancer starts growing.

  • Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) - This is the most common form, accounting for more than 87% of cases, according to the NHS. It can be one of three types: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma.

  • Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) – This is the type Diamond is reported to have suffered from. It is less common than non-small-cell lung cancer and usually spreads faster. According to Cancer Research UK, around 15 to 20 out of every 100 lung cancers diagnosed are this type. It is usually caused by smoking. These cancers tend to spread quite early on.

Cancer Research UK says small-cell lung cancers are also classed as neuroendocrine tumours. “Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are rare tumours that develop in cells of the neuroendocrine system,” the site explains. “In small cell lung cancer, the tumour starts in the neuroendocrine cells of the lung.”

Neuroendocrine cells are present in most of our organs. They make hormones which control how our bodies work. For instance, the neuroendocrine cells of the lung make hormones that control the flow of air and blood.

The type of lung cancer a patient has determines which treatments are recommended.

Dustin Diamond appeared in Saved by the Bell, pictured: (l-r) Mario Lopez, Dennis Haskins, Lark Voorhies, Tiffani Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond (Image NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Dustin Diamond appeared in 'Saved by the Bell' alongside (pictured l-r) Mario Lopez, Dennis Haskins, Lark Voorhies, Tiffani Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond (Image NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

What are the symptoms of small-cell lung cancer?

There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but according to the NHS many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

  • a persistent cough

  • coughing up blood

  • persistent breathlessness

  • unexplained tiredness and weight loss

  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing.

If you have these symptoms it is worth seeing your GP to get checked out.

Symptoms of NETs caused by hormones

Cancer Research UK say some types of lung NETs make hormones that go into the bloodstream, which can cause symptoms that don’t seem related to the cancer. The symptoms might include:

  • Flushing of the skin

  • Diarrhoea

  • Wheezing

  • A fast heartbeat.

Doctors call this collection of symptoms carcinoid syndrome and it is more likely to occur if the lung NET has spread to other parts of the body, particularly the liver.

Watch: Dustin Diamond dies age 44 from lung cancer.

Risk factors of lung cancer

The NHS says lung cancer mainly affects older people and is rare in people younger than 40. “More than four out of 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK are aged 75 and older,” the site explains.

Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, the NHS says smoking is the most common cause, accounting for around 72% of cases.

This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.

Dustin Diamond leaving Celebrity Big Brother in September 2013. (Getty Images)
Dustin Diamond leaving 'Celebrity Big Brother' in September 2013. (Getty Images)

Treatment for small cell carcinoma

According to Cancer Research UK the treatment for small cell carcinoma will depend where the cancer is, how far it has grown or spread (the stage) and the patient’s general health and overall level of fitness.

The main treatments are:

  • chemotherapy

  • radiotherapy

  • surgery

  • chemoradiotherapy – chemotherapy with radiotherapy

  • symptom control treatment.

A patient may have one or more of these treatments depending on the stage of their cancer and also how well the treatment works for them.

According to the NHS, if the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, doctors may recommend surgery to remove the affected area of lung.

If surgery is unsuitable due to a patient’s general health, doctors may instead recommend radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells.

If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually recommended.

There are also a number of medicines known as targeted therapies. They target a specific change in or around the cancer cells that is helping them to grow.

While targeted therapies cannot cure lung cancer, they can slow its spread.

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