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Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer spreads fast — but it is also treatable. We make use of our entire treatment arsenal to provide our patients with good outcomes. Your treatment may include the latest chemotherapy drugs in combination with immunotherapy. We also offer a wide range of clinical trials that give you access to promising new treatments.

What Is Small Cell Lung Cancer?

About 13 percent of all lung cancers are small cell lung cancers (SCLC). Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors. There are two main types:

  • Small cell carcinoma
  • Combined small cell carcinoma

Small cell lung cancer is aggressive — it grows and spreads to other areas of the body more quickly than non-small cell lung cancer. Tumors often metastasize (spread) to the brain, liver and bones.

Read about small cell lung cancer symptoms.

Why Choose Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center for Small Cell Lung Cancer Care

Our experienced lung cancer specialists were a part of the clinical trials that established the standard of care for small cell lung cancer. They bring that expertise to your bedside, offering the advanced treatments and knowledge needed to provide effective care. We also provide:

  • Team-based care: Our lung cancer team collaborates with surgeons, dermatologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists and neurologists to manage your care and potential side effects. Learn more about our urgent care for lung cancer treatment side effects.
  • Rapid treatment: Because SCLC is so aggressive, our doctors arrange their schedules to better accommodate newly diagnosed patients. Our oncology-certified nurse navigator leads the way in these efforts, coordinating any necessary appointments so you can get into lung cancer treatment faster.
  • Comprehensive treatments: We offer the full range of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and immunotherapy options to treat small cell lung cancer. You also have access to new treatments through lung cancer clinical trials.
  • Care close to home: We offer chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and pre- and postoperative care throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. Using your zip code, we make sure you’re able to get the care you need where it's most convenient. See our Abramson Cancer Center locations.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

The best treatment options for you depend on the stage of the cancer, your personal health and other factors. Standard small cell lung cancer treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy and immunotherapy: Chemotherapy kills and stops the growth of cancer cells with medication. You may receive chemo alone or in combination with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy trains your immune cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Read more about chemotherapy for lung cancer and immunotherapy for lung cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: Doctors shrink and kill tumors using high-energy radiation. Most small cell lung cancer patients receive radiation to prevent or treat lung cancer metastasis to the brain. Learn more about radiation treatment for lung cancer.
  • Laser therapy: Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.
  • Endoscopic stent placement: Doctors use this procedure to open airways that are blocked by cancerous tumors. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument that has a light and a lens for viewing. Doctors clear a way through the tumor and then use the endoscope to place a stent that keeps the airway open.
  • Surgery: For a small group of patients who have a lung cancer variant called nodular small cell lung cancer, surgery to remove the tiny nodule can be curative. Read more about lung cancer surgery.

Treating Lung Cancer Metastasis to the Brain

For small cell lung cancer that has metastasized, we work closely with experts in neuro-oncology, neurosurgery and radiation oncology to provide the highest quality of care possible. This collaborative approach helps make this complex diagnosis routine, leading to better outcomes:

Sometimes, treatment includes Gamma Knife® therapy. This radiation treatment:

  • Targets and destroys brain tumors with pinpoint accuracy
  • Requires no incisions
  • Helps you avoid the risks associated with conventional brain surgery

Our radiation oncologists use this technology to treat many patients with advanced lung cancer that has spread to the brain. Learn more about Gamma Knife for cancer.