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Home > Mesothelioma articles > Small-cell lung cancer (sclc)

Small-cell lung cancer (sclc)

Small cell is a quick-moving cancer, rapidly spreading to lymph nodes and other organs. Characterized by rapid cell division, SCLC long-term survival can be low because many patients have widespread disease at the time of diagnosis.

There are 2 stages of SCLC:

  • Limited stage
  • Extensive stage

Limited stage small cell lung cancer means tumor confined to the hemothorax, mediastinum, and supraclavicular nodes, and which can be encompassed within a radiation therapy port. There is no universally accepted definition of the term limited stage, and patients with pleural effusion, large tumors, and positive contralateral supraclavicular nodes have been both included within and excluded from limited stage categorization.

Extensive stage small cell lung cancer means tumor that is too widespread to be included within the definition of limited stage disease above. Patients with distant metastasises (M1) are always considered to have extensive stage disease.

Treatments for small cell lung cancer:


This is the most usual treatment for small cell lung cancer. Chemotherapy uses special drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs can shrink the cancer and make you feel better. Most patients have chemotherapy every 3-4 weeks for up to six months.

Chemotherapy options:

  • cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin + vincristine
  • cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin + etopiside
  • etopiside + cisplatin or carboplatin
  • ifosfamide + carboplatin + etopiside

There are certainly a number of other combinations and drugs used for Sclc throughout the world.


Most patients who have had a good response to their chemotherapy are offered radiotherapy afterwards. Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells. It is usually given from outside the body. This is called external beam radiotherapy.

The radiotherapy is given to the chest area. Some patients also have radiotherapy to the brain. Small cell lung cancer may spread to the brain and the aim of the radiotherapy is to try to stop this from happening. The treatment is called prophylactic cranial irradiation. It isn't suitable for all patients - your doctor will tell you whether s/he thinks you may benefit.

Laser therapy, airway stents and internal radiotherapy

These treatments may be used to help you if the cancer is blocking your airway, making it harder for you to breathe.

Laser therapy uses a light beam to remove as much of the cancer as possible. The doctor uses an instrument called a bronchoscope to pass the laser through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs.

A stent is a device that can keep the airway open. It works a bit like an umbrella. The doctor uses a bronchoscope to put it in place. The stent then opens out and pushes against the walls of the airway, keeping it open and allowing you to breathe more easily.

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy - called brachytherapy - can also be used to treat airway blockage. A very small amount of radiation is put into the lung, to kill cancer cells from the inside.

SCLC usually starts in the larger breathing tubes, may spread more quickly than NSCLC, and is often found in the lymph nodes or in other areas of the body at the time of diagnosis.

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