Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

Different treatments are available for those with small cell lung cancer. There may also be some treatments offered as clinical trials. A clinical trial is a study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments.

Treatments for Patients with Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment options vary depending on your situation including the stage of the cancer and other factors that may be present. Standard treatments for small cell lung cancer at Penn include:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Endoscopic Stent Placement

An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument used to look at tissues inside the body. An endoscope has a light and a lens for viewing and may be used to place a stent in a body structure to keep the structure open. Endoscopic stent placement can be used to open an airway blocked by abnormal tissue.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapies offered at Penn include:

  • External radiation (or external beam radiation) comes from a machine outside the body. The machine directs high-energy rays at the cancer and some normal surrounding tissue. It is the most often used radiation treatment. The machine used to deliver the high-energy rays is called a linear accelerator.
  • Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation treatment is a type of external beam radiation. It uses computers to allow doctors to more precisely target a tumor with radiation beams (using width, height, and depth).
  • Intensity-modulated radiation treatment (IMRT) is a type of 3-D conformal radiation treatment that uses radiation beams (usually x-rays) of various intensities to give different doses of radiation, at the same time, to small areas of tissue. This allows the delivery of higher doses of radiation to the tumor and lower doses to nearby healthy tissue.
  • Internal radiation treatment, or brachytherapy, is given by placing an implant into or near the tumor. The implant is a small container that holds the radioactive source or material. Internal radiation treatment allows your doctor to give a higher total dose of radiation to a smaller area and in a shorter time than with external radiation treatment.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) combines a drug called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent with a specific type of light to kill cancer cells. Photosensitizers are drugs that when exposed to a specific wavelength of light, produce a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells. PDT can also work by shrinking or destroy tumors by damaging blood vessels in the tumor. This prevents the cancer from receiving nutrients. Also, PDT may activate the immune system to attack the tumor cells.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely give a single large dose of radiation to a tumor. It is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders that cannot be treated by regular surgery. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Also called radiation surgery, radiosurgery, and stereotaxic radiosurgery.
  • Proton therapy is the most precise form of radiation treatment for cancer possible, while minimizing damage to healthy tissue and surrounding organs.

Surgery

Surgery may be used if the cancer is found in one lung and in nearby lymph nodes only. Because this type of lung cancer is usually found in both lungs, surgery alone is not often used. Occasionally, surgery may be used to help determine the patient's exact type of lung cancer. During surgery, the doctor will also remove lymph nodes to see if they contain cancer.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.

Our surgeons are expert in evaluating the risks and benefits of minimally invasive procedures versus open procedures, so that you can make the decision that's best for you.

Read more about surgery for cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.