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Lung cancer - small cell

  • Alternative Names

    Cancer - lung - small cell; Small cell lung cancer; SCLC


    Because SCLC spreads quickly throughout the body, treatment must include cancer-killing drugs (chemotherapy) taken by mouth or injected into the body. Usually, the chemotherapy drug etoposide is combined with either cisplatin or carboplatin.

    Combination chemotherapy and radiation treatment is given to people with extensive SCLC. However, the treatment only helps relieve symptoms. It does not cure the disease.

    Radiation therapy uses powerful x-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used with chemotherapy if surgery is not possible. Radiation may be used to:

    • Treat the cancer, along with chemotherapy if surgery is not possible
    • Help relieve symptoms caused by the cancer such as breathing problems and swelling.
    • Help relieve cancer pain when the cancer has spread to the bones

    Often, SCLC may have already spread to the brain, even when there are no symptoms or other signs of cancer in the brain. As a result, radiation therapy to the brain may be given to some patients with smaller cancers, or to those who had a good response in the first round of chemotherapy. This method is called prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI).

    Very few patients with SCLC are helped by having surgery because the disease has often spread by the time of diagnosis. Surgery may be done when there is only one tumor that has not spread. If surgery is done, chemotherapy or radiation therapy will still be needed.

    Support Groups

    For additional information and resources, see cancer support group.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    How well you do depends on how much the lung cancer has spread. This type of cancer is very deadly. Only about 6% of people with this type of cancer are still alive 5 years after diagnosis.

    Treatment can often prolong life for 6 - 12 months, even when the cancer has spread.

    • Cancer spreads to other parts of the body
    • Side effects of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of lung cancer (particularly if you smoke).