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Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (Professional) (cont.)

Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

Standard Treatment Options for Patients With Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Standard treatment options for patients with extensive-stage SCLC include the following:

  1. Combination chemotherapy.
  2. Radiation therapy.
  3. Prophylactic cranial irradiation.

Combination chemotherapy

Chemotherapy for patients with extensive-stage disease (ED) SCLC is commonly given as a two-drug combination of platinum and etoposide in doses associated with at least moderate toxic effects (as in limited-stage [LD] SCLC).[1] Cisplatin is associated with significant toxic effects and requires fluid hydration, which can be problematic in patients with cardiovascular disease. Carboplatin is active in SCLC, is dosed according to renal function, and is associated with less nonhematological toxic effects.

Other regimens appear to produce similar survival outcomes but have been studied less extensively or are in less common use.

Table 2. 2. Combination Chemotherapy For Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer

Standard treatmentEtoposide + cisplatin
Etoposide + carboplatin
Other regimensCisplatin + irinotecan
Ifosfamide + cisplatin + etoposide
Cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin + etoposide
Cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin + etoposide + vincristine
Cyclophosphamide + etoposide + vincristine
Cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin + vincristine

Doses and schedules used in current programs yield overall response rates of 50% to 80% and complete response rates of 0% to 30% in patients with ED.[2,3][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Intracranial metastases from small cell carcinoma may respond to chemotherapy as readily as metastases in other organs.[4,5]

Evidence (standard regimens):

  1. Two meta-analyses evaluating the role of platinum combinations versus nonplatinum combinations have been published.
    • A Cochrane analysis did not identify a difference in 6-, 12-, or 24-month survival.[6]
    • A meta-analysis of 19 trials published between 1981 and 1999 showed a significant survival advantage for patients receiving platinum-based chemotherapy compared with those not receiving a platinum agent.[3][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
  2. The Hellenic Oncology Group conducted a phase III trial comparing cisplatin and etoposide with carboplatin plus etoposide.[7] The median survival was 11.8 months in the cisplatin arm and 12.5 months in carboplatin-treated patients.[7][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Although this difference was not statistically significant, the trial was underpowered to prove equivalence of the two treatment regimens in patients with either LD or ED.

Evidence (other combination chemotherapy regimens):

  1. Irinotecan. Five trials and two meta-analyses have evaluated the combination of etoposide and cisplatin versus irinotecan and cisplatin. Only one of the trials showed the superiority of the irinotecan and cisplatin combination.[8][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Subsequent trials and the meta-analyses support that the regimens provide equivalent clinical benefit with differing toxicity profiles.[9,10,11,12,13,14][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Irinotecan and cisplatin regimens led to less grade 3 to 4 anemia, neutropenia, and thrombocytopenia but more grade 3 to 4 vomiting and diarrhea than etoposide and cisplatin regimens. Treatment-related deaths were comparable between the two groups.
  2. Topotecan. In a randomized trial of 784 patients, the combination of oral topotecan given with cisplatin for 5 days was not found to be superior to etoposide and cisplatin.[15] The 1-year survival rate was 31% (95% confidence interval [CI], 27%–36%) and was deemed to be noninferior, as the difference of -0.03 met the predefined criteria of no more than 10% absolute difference in 1-year survival.[15][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
  3. Paclitaxel. No consistent survival benefit has resulted from the addition of paclitaxel to etoposide and cisplatin.[16,17]

Evidence (duration of treatment):

  1. The optimal duration of chemotherapy is not clearly defined, but no obvious improvement in survival occurs when the duration of drug administration exceeds 6 months.[7,18,19]
  2. No clear evidence is available from reported data from randomized trials that maintenance chemotherapy will improve survival duration.[20,21,22][Level of evidence: 1iiA] However, a meta-analysis of 14 published, randomized trials assessing the benefit of duration/maintenance therapy reported an odds ratio of 0.67 for both 1- and 2-year overall survival (OS) of 0.67 (95% CI, 0.56–0.79; P < .001 for 1-year OS and 0.53–0.86; P < .001 for 2-year OS). This corresponded to an increase of 9% in 1-year OS and 4% in 2-year OS.[23][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Evidence (dose intensification):

  1. The role of dose intensification in patients with SCLC remains unclear.[24,25,26,27,28] Early studies showed that under-treatment compromised outcome and suggested that early dose intensification may improve survival.[24,25] A number of clinical trials have examined the use of colony-stimulating factors to support dose-intensified chemotherapy in SCLC.[26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34] These studies have yielded conflicting results.
    • Four studies have shown that a modest increase in dose intensity (25%–34%) was associated with a significant improvement in survival with no compromise in quality of life (QOL).[26,27,28,29][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • Two of three studies that examined combinations of the variables of interval, dose per cycle, and number of cycles showed no advantage.[29,30,31,32][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer trial (EORTC-08923) reported a randomized comparison of standard-dose cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and etoposide given every 3 weeks for five cycles versus intensified treatment given at 125% of the dose every 2 weeks for four cycles with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) support.[32] The median dose intensity delivered was 70% higher in the experimental arm; the median cumulative dose was similar in both arms. There was no difference between treatment groups in median or 2-year survival.
    • A randomized, phase III trial compared ifosfamide, cisplatin, and etoposide (ICE), which was given every 4 weeks, with twice weekly ICE with G-CSF and autologous blood support.[33] Despite achieving a relative dose intensity of 1.84 in the dose-accelerated arm, there was no difference in response rate (88% vs. 80%, respectively), median survival (14.4 vs. 13.9 months, respectively), or 2-year survival (19% vs. 22%, respectively) for dose-dense treatment compared with standard treatment.[33][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Patients who received dose-dense treatment spent less time on treatment and had fewer episodes of infection.

      A randomized, phase II study of identical design reported a significantly better median survival for the dose-dense arm (29.8 vs. 17.4 months, respectively; P = .02) and 2-year survival (62% vs. 36%, respectively; P = .05).[34] However, given the small study size (only 70 patients), these results should be viewed with caution.

Factors influencing treatment with chemotherapy

Performance status

More patients with ED SCLC have greatly impaired performance status at the time of diagnosis than patients with LD. Such patients have a poor prognosis and tolerate aggressive chemotherapy or combined-modality therapy poorly. Single-agent intravenous, oral, and low-dose biweekly regimens have been developed for these patients.[30,35,36,37,38,39,40,41]

Prospective, randomized studies have shown that patients with a poor prognosis who are treated with conventional regimens live longer than those treated with the single-agent, low-dose regimens or abbreviated courses of therapy. A study comparing chemotherapy every 3 weeks with treatment given as required for symptom control showed an improvement in QOL in those patients receiving regular treatment.[38][Level of evidence: 1iiDii]

Other studies have tested intensive one-drug or two-drug regimens. A study conducted by the Medical Research Council demonstrated similar efficacy for an etoposide plus vincristine regimen and a four-drug regimen.[39] The latter regimen was associated with a greater risk of toxic effects and early death but was superior with respect to palliation of symptoms and psychological distress.[39][Level of evidence: 1iiC] Studies comparing a convenient oral treatment with single-agent oral etoposide versus combination therapy showed that the overall response rate and OS were significantly worse in the oral etoposide arm.[35,40][Level of evidence: 1iiA]


Subgroup analyses of phase II and phase III trials of SCLC patients by age showed that myelosuppression and doxorubicin-induced cardiac toxic effects were more severe in older patients than in younger patients and that the incidence of treatment-related death tended to be higher in older patients.[41] About 80% of older patients, however, received optimal treatment, and their survival was comparable to that of younger patients. The standard chemotherapy regimens for the general population could be applied to older patients in good general condition (i.e., performance status of 0–1, normal organ function, and no comorbidity). There is no evidence of a difference in response rate, disease-free survival (DFS), or OS in older patients compared with younger patients.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy to sites of metastatic disease unlikely to be immediately palliated by chemotherapy, especially brain, epidural, and bone metastases, is a standard treatment option for patients with ED SCLC. Brain metastases are treated with whole-brain radiation therapy.

Chest radiation therapy is sometimes given for superior vena cava syndrome, but chemotherapy alone, with radiation reserved for nonresponding patients, is appropriate initial treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Cardiopulmonary Syndromes for more information.)

Prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI)

Patients with ED treated with chemotherapy who have achieved a response can be considered for administration of PCI.

Evidence (PCI):

  1. A randomized trial of 286 patients with response following four to six cycles of chemotherapy compared PCI versus no further therapy with symptomatic brain metastases.[42][Level of evidence: 1iiD
    • The cumulative risk of brain metastases within 1 year was 14.6% in the radiation group (95% CI, 8.3–20.9) and 40.4% in the control group (95% CI, 32.1– 48.6).
    • Radiation was associated with an increase in median DFS from 12.0 weeks to 14.7 weeks and in median OS from 5.4 months to 6.7 months after randomization.
    • The 1-year survival rate was 27.1% (95% CI, 19.4–35.5) in the radiation group and 13.3% (95% CI, 8.1–19.9) in the control group.[42]
    • Radiation had side effects but did not have a clinically significant effect on global health status.[42]

Combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Combination chemotherapy plus chest radiation therapy does not appear to improve survival compared with chemotherapy alone in patients with ED SCLC.

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for patients with ED SCLC include the following:

  • New drug regimens.
  • Alternative drug doses and schedules.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with extensive stage small cell lung cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


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  2. Roth BJ, Johnson DH, Einhorn LH, et al.: Randomized study of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and vincristine versus etoposide and cisplatin versus alternation of these two regimens in extensive small-cell lung cancer: a phase III trial of the Southeastern Cancer Study Group. J Clin Oncol 10 (2): 282-91, 1992.
  3. Pujol JL, Carestia L, Daurès JP: Is there a case for cisplatin in the treatment of small-cell lung cancer? A meta-analysis of randomized trials of a cisplatin-containing regimen versus a regimen without this alkylating agent. Br J Cancer 83 (1): 8-15, 2000.
  4. Twelves CJ, Souhami RL, Harper PG, et al.: The response of cerebral metastases in small cell lung cancer to systemic chemotherapy. Br J Cancer 61 (1): 147-50, 1990.
  5. Nugent JL, Bunn PA Jr, Matthews MJ, et al.: CNS metastases in small cell bronchogenic carcinoma: increasing frequency and changing pattern with lengthening survival. Cancer 44 (5): 1885-93, 1979.
  6. Amarasena IU, Walters JA, Wood-Baker R, et al.: Platinum versus non-platinum chemotherapy regimens for small cell lung cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (4): CD006849, 2008.
  7. Controlled trial of twelve versus six courses of chemotherapy in the treatment of small-cell lung cancer. Report to the Medical Research Council by its Lung Cancer Working Party. Br J Cancer 59 (4): 584-90, 1989.
  8. Noda K, Nishiwaki Y, Kawahara M, et al.: Irinotecan plus cisplatin compared with etoposide plus cisplatin for extensive small-cell lung cancer. N Engl J Med 346 (2): 85-91, 2002.
  9. Hanna N, Bunn PA Jr, Langer C, et al.: Randomized phase III trial comparing irinotecan/cisplatin with etoposide/cisplatin in patients with previously untreated extensive-stage disease small-cell lung cancer. J Clin Oncol 24 (13): 2038-43, 2006.
  10. Lara PN Jr, Natale R, Crowley J, et al.: Phase III trial of irinotecan/cisplatin compared with etoposide/cisplatin in extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer: clinical and pharmacogenomic results from SWOG S0124. J Clin Oncol 27 (15): 2530-5, 2009.
  11. Schmittel A, Sebastian M, Fischer von Weikersthal L, et al.: A German multicenter, randomized phase III trial comparing irinotecan-carboplatin with etoposide-carboplatin as first-line therapy for extensive-disease small-cell lung cancer. Ann Oncol 22 (8): 1798-804, 2011.
  12. Zatloukal P, Cardenal F, Szczesna A, et al.: A multicenter international randomized phase III study comparing cisplatin in combination with irinotecan or etoposide in previously untreated small-cell lung cancer patients with extensive disease. Ann Oncol 21 (9): 1810-6, 2010.
  13. Jiang J, Liang X, Zhou X, et al.: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing irinotecan/platinum with etoposide/platinum in patients with previously untreated extensive-stage small cell lung cancer. J Thorac Oncol 5 (6): 867-73, 2010.
  14. Guo S, Liang Y, Zhou Q: Complement and correction for meta-analysis of patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer managed with irinotecan/cisplatin versus etoposide/cisplatin as first-line chemotherapy. J Thorac Oncol 6 (2): 406-8; author reply 408, 2011.
  15. Eckardt JR, von Pawel J, Papai Z, et al.: Open-label, multicenter, randomized, phase III study comparing oral topotecan/cisplatin versus etoposide/cisplatin as treatment for chemotherapy-naive patients with extensive-disease small-cell lung cancer. J Clin Oncol 24 (13): 2044-51, 2006.
  16. Mavroudis D, Papadakis E, Veslemes M, et al.: A multicenter randomized clinical trial comparing paclitaxel-cisplatin-etoposide versus cisplatin-etoposide as first-line treatment in patients with small-cell lung cancer. Ann Oncol 12 (4): 463-70, 2001.
  17. Niell HB, Herndon JE 2nd, Miller AA, et al.: Randomized phase III intergroup trial of etoposide and cisplatin with or without paclitaxel and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor in patients with extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer: Cancer and Leukemia Group B Trial 9732. J Clin Oncol 23 (16): 3752-9, 2005.
  18. Spiro SG, Souhami RL, Geddes DM, et al.: Duration of chemotherapy in small cell lung cancer: a Cancer Research Campaign trial. Br J Cancer 59 (4): 578-83, 1989.
  19. Bleehen NM, Girling DJ, Machin D, et al.: A randomised trial of three or six courses of etoposide cyclophosphamide methotrexate and vincristine or six courses of etoposide and ifosfamide in small cell lung cancer (SCLC). I: Survival and prognostic factors. Medical Research Council Lung Cancer Working Party. Br J Cancer 68 (6): 1150-6, 1993.
  20. Giaccone G, Dalesio O, McVie GJ, et al.: Maintenance chemotherapy in small-cell lung cancer: long-term results of a randomized trial. European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Lung Cancer Cooperative Group. J Clin Oncol 11 (7): 1230-40, 1993.
  21. Sculier JP, Paesmans M, Bureau G, et al.: Randomized trial comparing induction chemotherapy versus induction chemotherapy followed by maintenance chemotherapy in small-cell lung cancer. European Lung Cancer Working Party. J Clin Oncol 14 (8): 2337-44, 1996.
  22. Schiller JH, Adak S, Cella D, et al.: Topotecan versus observation after cisplatin plus etoposide in extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer: E7593--a phase III trial of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group. J Clin Oncol 19 (8): 2114-22, 2001.
  23. Bozcuk H, Artac M, Ozdogan M, et al.: Does maintenance/consolidation chemotherapy have a role in the management of small cell lung cancer (SCLC)? A metaanalysis of the published controlled trials. Cancer 104 (12): 2650-7, 2005.
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  28. Steward WP, von Pawel J, Gatzemeier U, et al.: Effects of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor and dose intensification of V-ICE chemotherapy in small-cell lung cancer: a prospective randomized study of 300 patients. J Clin Oncol 16 (2): 642-50, 1998.
  29. Thatcher N, Girling DJ, Hopwood P, et al.: Improving survival without reducing quality of life in small-cell lung cancer patients by increasing the dose-intensity of chemotherapy with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor support: results of a British Medical Research Council Multicenter Randomized Trial. Medical Research Council Lung Cancer Working Party. J Clin Oncol 18 (2): 395-404, 2000.
  30. James LE, Gower NH, Rudd RM, et al.: A randomised trial of low-dose/high-frequency chemotherapy as palliative treatment of poor-prognosis small-cell lung cancer: a Cancer research Campaign trial. Br J Cancer 73 (12): 1563-8, 1996.
  31. Pujol JL, Douillard JY, Rivière A, et al.: Dose-intensity of a four-drug chemotherapy regimen with or without recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor in extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer: a multicenter randomized phase III study. J Clin Oncol 15 (5): 2082-9, 1997.
  32. Ardizzoni A, Tjan-Heijnen VC, Postmus PE, et al.: Standard versus intensified chemotherapy with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor support in small-cell lung cancer: a prospective European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Lung Cancer Group Phase III Trial-08923. J Clin Oncol 20 (19): 3947-55, 2002.
  33. Lorigan P, Woll PJ, O'Brien ME, et al.: Randomized phase III trial of dose-dense chemotherapy supported by whole-blood hematopoietic progenitors in better-prognosis small-cell lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 97 (9): 666-74, 2005.
  34. Buchholz E, Manegold C, Pilz L, et al.: Standard versus dose-intensified chemotherapy with sequential reinfusion of hematopoietic progenitor cells in small cell lung cancer patients with favorable prognosis. J Thorac Oncol 2 (1): 51-8, 2007.
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  39. Randomised trial of four-drug vs less intensive two-drug chemotherapy in the palliative treatment of patients with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and poor prognosis. Medical Research Council Lung Cancer Working Party. Br J Cancer 73 (3): 406-13, 1996.
  40. Souhami RL, Spiro SG, Rudd RM, et al.: Five-day oral etoposide treatment for advanced small-cell lung cancer: randomized comparison with intravenous chemotherapy. J Natl Cancer Inst 89 (8): 577-80, 1997.
  41. Sekine I, Yamamoto N, Kunitoh H, et al.: Treatment of small cell lung cancer in the elderly based on a critical literature review of clinical trials. Cancer Treat Rev 30 (4): 359-68, 2004.
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