Font Size

Small-Cell Lung Cancer

What Is Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)?

When cells of the lung start to undergo a degenerative transformation in appearance and start growing rapidly in an uncontrolled manner, the condition is called lung cancer. Lung cancer can affect any part of the lung. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both women and men in the United States, Canada, and China. Two main types of lung cancer exist: small-cell lung cancer (SCLC, or small cell lung carcinoma, also formerly called oat cell cancer) and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Most lung cancers are NSCLC, including squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma of the lung. Small-cell lung cancer accounts for only approximately 15% of all cases of lung cancer. Small-cell lung cancer differs from non-small-cell lung cancer in the following ways:

  • Small-cell lung cancer grows rapidly. The time from the development of symptoms to diagnosis is usually 90 days or less.
  • Small-cell lung cancer spreads quickly. From 67%-75% of people who develop small cell lung cancer will have spread of the cancer outside of the lung to other parts of the body at the time of initial diagnosis.
  • Small-cell lung cancer responds well to chemotherapy (using medications to kill cancer cells) and radiation therapy (using high-dose X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells).
  • SCLC is frequently associated with distinct paraneoplastic syndromes (collection of symptoms that may result from substances produced by the tumor, the effects of which may occur systematically or at other areas separate from those with direct cancer involvement).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

Must Read Articles Related to Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Non-small-cell lung cancer is one of two types of learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Small-Cell Lung Cancer:

Small-Cell Lung Cancer - Treatment

What was the treatment for your small-cell lung cancer?

Small-Cell Lung Cancer - Symptoms

What were the symptoms of your small-cell lung cancer?

Small-Cell Lung Cancer Symptom


If a cough is a warning sign of an underlying cancer, the person may have a group of symptoms. If lung cancer or a cancer of the air passages is present, the person may cough up blood. Other signs and symptoms that may warn of a cancer include worsening fatigue, loss of appetite, unexplained loss of weight, or decreased ability to swallow solid or liquid foods.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Lung Cancer, Oat Cell (Small Cell) »

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is considered distinct from other lung cancers, called non–small-cell lung cancers (NSCLCs), because of their clinical and biologic characteristics.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary