Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up about 15% of lung cancers. It tends to be more aggressive than the other main category of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer and has a relative 5-year survival rate almost four times lower.

Depending on how far it has progressed, doctors divide SCLC into limited and extensive stages. They can understand the best way to treat your cancer and predict your outlook by determining which stage you are in.

SCLC can be treated with a combination of therapies. Treatment for SCLC that is Extensive-stage is usually focused on managing symptoms.

In this article, we look at how doctors define limited-stage SCLC, how it is treated, and what the outlook is for people with it.

Most doctors divide small-cell lung cancer into two stages: limited stage and extensive stage.

Roughly one in three people who receive a diagnosis of SCLC have limited-stage SCLC.

The cancer is contained to one side of your chest in limited-stage SCLC. Doctors might consider your cancer extensive if there are many tumors in your lung.

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes above your collar bone, some doctors still consider SCLC limited. Doctors will sometimes consider the cancer limited when it spreads to the lymphatic area in the middle of your chest.

Doctors diagnose extensive-stage SCLC when the cancer has spread to:

  • Your other lung.
  • The area between your lungs.
  • There are lymph nodes on the other side of your body.
  • “Your brain or the body’s other distant tissues.”

The tumor, nodes, metastasis staging system is sometimes used to classify SCLC. The system categorizes your cancer into stages 1 to 4.

  • Tumor: how big and far your tumor has grown
  • Nodes: whether it’s spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Metastasis: whether it’s spread to distant organs or tissues

SCLC might not cause any noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As the tumor grows, the symptoms get worse.

The most common initial symptoms are:

Other symptoms include:

The best chance of having a good outcome is if you catch SCLC in the limited stage. Lung cancer is not usually found until it starts causing problems.

A doctor will perform a physical exam and examine your medical history. If they suspect you have lung cancer, they may send you for an exam.

A chest X-ray is the most common initial imaging test ordered to look for lung abnormalities. Other imaging tests include:

The diagnosis of cancer is made by looking at cells from your lung. A doctor may take a sample of you.

  • Lung secretions are analysed by a doctor.
  • fluid around your lungs
  • An abnormal section of your lungs.

Blood tests such as a complete blood count and blood chemistry test may be used to measure your overall health and to see if you’re healthy enough for surgery.

Limited-stage SCLC is often treated with more aggressive treatment than extensive-stage SCLC. Extensive-stage SCLC isn’t considered curable, so treatment usually focuses on improving your quality of life and lowering your symptoms.

According to the National Cancer Institute, treatment for limited-stage SCLC may include:

  • Radiation therapy to your chest.
  • “People who can’t receive radiation therapy can receive multiple drugs.”
  • Then the surgery and the treatment for cancer.
  • Then the surgery and the treatment for cancer. with radiation therapy
  • Clinical trials are looking at new types of therapy.

Approximately 10% to 20% of people who received a diagnosis of SCLC have cancer that spreads to their brain. If your treatment is successful, a doctor may also recommend radiation therapy to your brain later to destroy any cancer cells that couldn’t be found.

Treatment for extensive SCLC may include:

  • Immune checkpoint therapy with multiple drugs.
  • Multiple drugs.
  • People who respond well to treatment can receive radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy to the brain is where the cancer has spread.
  • There are trials of new treatments.

The 5-year relative survival rate for SCLC is about 7%. The 5-year relative survival rate refers to the number of people still alive after 5 years with the cancer compared with the number of people still alive after 5 years in the general population.

The outlook for people with limited-stage SCLC is better than the outlook for people with extensive-stage SCLC. Only about 2% of people with extensive-stage SCLC are alive after 5 years. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, limited-stage SCLC has a median survival rate of 12 to 16 months with treatment.

These survival rates can give you an idea of what to expect, but many factors can influence how you respond to treatment. Factors linked to a better overall survival include:

  • The early cancer stage is the most serious.
  • Losing less than 10% of your body weight.
  • Having a good day.
  • Being assigned a female at birth.
  • Good overall health.
  • There are certain genetic changes in cancer cells.

A doctor can give you an idea of what to expect.

SCLC can be limited to one lung or nearby lymphoma.

Less than half of people with limited-stage SCLC survive at least 5 years after being diagnosed, while more than half of people with extensive-stage SCLC survive at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Researchers are looking at new treatments for SCLC. A doctor can help you decide on a treatment.