Small Cell Lung Cancer

What is SCLC?

  • There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). SCLC affects fewer people than NSCLC and is particularly difficult to treat.1
  • SCLC typically originates in the breathing tubes in the center of the chest, also known as the bronchi. 2
  • There are two stages of SCLC:3
    • Limited Stage is when the cancer is confined to a specific area.
    • Extensive Stage is when the cancer has spread widely throughout the lungs, lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
  • As SCLC progresses, tumor cells grow, divide and spread to other tissues (a process called metastasis) more quickly than NSCLC. As such, the majority of people with SCLC are diagnosed with extensive disease.

What is the impact of SCLC?

  • An estimated 234,000 new cases of SCLC and NSCLC are expected to be diagnosed in 2018.
  • SCLC accounts for approximately 13-15 percent of all lung cancer cases.1,4,5

What are the symptoms of SCLC?

  • In later stages, lung cancer symptoms include: 6
    • A persistent cough that does not go away or gets worse
    • Coughing up blood
    • Weight loss or loss of appetite
    • Shortness of breath
    • New onset of wheezing

What are the risk factors of SCLC?

  • Smoking is the leading risk factor for most types of lung cancer, and has the strongest association with SCLC. More than 95 percent of people with SCLC have a history of tobacco use. 7,8,9
  • Additional risk factors for SCLC include:7,8
    • Male gender
    • Advanced age
    • Environmental exposure, such as exposure to radon or asbestos

Can it be caught early?

  • Since SCLC often progresses rapidly, early screening is important.10
    • Those at high risk of SCLC, including those with a history of smoking, should talk to their doctor about getting a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan.8,9

How is SCLC treated?

  • In the past 20 years, there has been limited treatment progress for people with SCLC.11 Current treatment options include chemotherapy and radiation.12

1. American Cancer Society; What Is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer? [Internet]: Accessed July 2018.
2. American Cancer Society; What Is Small Cell Cancer [Internet]: Accessed September 2018.
3. American Cancer Society; Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages [Internet]: Accessed August 2018.
4. Alvarado-Luna G, Morales-Espinosa D. Treatment for small cell lung cancer, where are we now?—a review. Transl Lung Cancer Res 2016;5(1):26-38. doi: 10.3978/ j.issn.2218-6751.2016.01.13
5. American Cancer Society; Key Statistics for Small Cell Lung Cancer [Internet]: Accessed July 2018.
6. American Cancer Society; Signs and Symptoms Of Small Cell Lung Cancer [Internet]: Accessed August 2018.
7. American Cancer Society; Small Cell Lung Cancer Risk Factors [Internet]: Access July 2018.
8. American Cancer society; Can Small Cell Lung Cancer Be Found Early? [Internet]: Accessed July 2018.
9. Carter, et al. Small Cell Lung Carcinoma: Staging, Imaging, and Treatment Considerations. RadioGraphics, 2014 doi:
10. National Cancer Institute; Lung Cancer Screening (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version [Internet]: Accessed July 2018.
11. Alvarado-Luna and Morales-Espinosa. Transl Lung Cancer Res 2016.
12. National Cancer Institute; Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version [Internet]: Accessed July 2018.