Lung Cancer (Small Cell)

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Treating Lung Cancer - Small Cell TOPICS

How is small cell lung cancer treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Making treatment decisions for small cell lung cancer

After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Depending on the stage of the disease and other factors, the main treatment options for people with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) include:

If you have SCLC, you will probably get chemotherapy if you are healthy enough. If you have limited stage disease, radiation therapy and – rarely – surgery may be options as well.

You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team, depending on the stage of your cancer and your treatment options. These doctors may include:

  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy.
  • A pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in medical treatment of diseases of the lungs.
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
  • A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases in the lungs and chest with surgery.

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, and other health professionals.

It is important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. (See the section “What should you ask your doctor about small cell lung cancer?”) One of the most important factors in choosing a treatment plan is the stage of the cancer, so be sure your doctor has ordered all the tests needed to determine the cancer’s stage.

Other factors to consider include your overall health, the likely side effects of the treatment, and the probability of curing the disease, extending life, or relieving symptoms. Age alone should not be a barrier to treatment. Older people can benefit from treatment as much as younger people as long as their general health is good.

If time permits, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion. This can provide you with more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan that you choose. Your doctor should be willing to help you find another cancer doctor who can give you a second opinion. If you have already had tests done, the results can be sent to the second doctor so that you will not have to have them done again.

The next few sections describe the various types of treatments used for small cell lung cancer. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used for these cancers based on the stage of the cancer.

Last Medical Review: 09/12/2014
Last Revised: 03/09/2015