Symptoms and Signs of Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/15/2022

Doctor's Notes on Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is one of the two major types of lung cancer. It is named because the cells appear small and round under the microscope. The most common cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking, which is estimated to be responsible for about 90% of cases of the disease. Other causes include passive exposure to cigarette smoke, radon gas exposure, air pollution, exposure to certain toxic chemicals, and the presence of certain lung diseases. SCLC is particularly thought to be related to smoking, which causes 99% of cases of SCLC.

Some people with lung cancer do not show symptoms when the cancer is first identified. When symptoms do occur, signs and symptoms associated with small cell lung cancer include

  • a cough that may produce blood or bloody sputum,
  • shortness of breath,
  • wheezing, and 
  • chest pain

What is the treatment of small cell lung cancer?

Treatment of small cell lung cancer is dependent upon the stage of cancer (limited- versus extensive-stage). Treatment options include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy
  • radiation therapy
  • laser therapy
  • medications to control pain and symptoms
  • clinical trials to test new drugs or combinations of drugs
  • palliative care to improve quality of life

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.