Small Cell Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States and the leading cause of all cancer deaths. Small cell lung cancer is one type of lung cancer.

What is lung cancer and how many people does it impact?

  • Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells originating in the lungs.1
  • In 2019, more than 228,000 Americans are estimated to be diagnosed with lung cancer, and approximately 142,600 are projected to die from the disease.1
  • It is estimated that nearly 85 percent of lung cancer diagnoses are made when the disease is in the advanced stages.2

What is SCLC?

  • There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). SCLC accounts for approximately 13 percent of all lung cancer cases and is particularly difficult to treat.1,4,5
  • 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.4

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 for 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 SCLC 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?

  • Current treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.12

1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2019.
2. American Cancer Society; What Is Small Cell Cancer [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
3. American Cancer Society; Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
4. American Cancer Society; Key Statistics for Small Cell Lung Cancer [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
5. 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
6. American Cancer Society; Signs and Symptoms Of Small Cell Lung Cancer [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
7. American Cancer Society; Small Cell Lung Cancer Risk Factors [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
8. American Cancer society; Can Small Cell Lung Cancer Be Found Early? [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
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. National Cancer Institute; Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version [Internet]: Accessed February 2019.
12. Hematology/Oncology (Cancer) Approvals & Safety Notifications 2018-2019. [Internet]: Accessed March 2019.