- How is small cell lung cancer treated?
- Choosing a treatment plan for small cell lung cancer
- Surgery for small cell lung cancer
- Radiation treatment for small cell lung cancer
- Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer
- Clinical trials for small cell lung cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for small cell lung cancer
Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer
Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with drugs given into a vein or taken by mouth. These drugs enter the bloodstream and go throughout the body. This treatment is useful for cancer that has spread (metastasized) to organs beyond the lung. Chemo is usually the main treatment for small cell lung cancer.
Doctors give chemo in cycles, with each round of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Chemo cycles often last about 3 to 4 weeks, and the first round of treatments is most often 4 to 6 cycles. Chemo is not often used for patients in poor health, but older age by itself doesn't mean you can't get chemo.
Possible side effects
Chemo drugs kill cancer cells but they also damage some normal cells, causing side effects. These side effects depend on the type of drugs used, the amount given, and the length of treatment. You could have some of these short-term side effects:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
- Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
- Feeling very tired all the time, called fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)
Some chemo drugs can damage nerves. This can cause numbness in the fingers and toes, and sometimes the arms and legs may feel weak. For find out more, see our document, Peripheral Neuropathy Caused by Chemotherapy.
Most side effects go away when treatment is over, but some can last a long time. Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects, as there are often ways to help. In some cases, the doses of the chemo drugs may need to be lowered or treatment may need to be delayed or stopped to prevent the side effects from getting worse.
To learn more about chemo please see our document, Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Medical Review: 03/14/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013