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Small Cell Lung Cancer


Small cell lung cancers account for roughly 13% of all lung cancers1 and are primarily diagnosed in smokers or former smokers. They differ from other types of lung cancer in that they spread very quickly throughout the body via the blood and lymphatic system.

Accurate staging of small cell lung cancer is essential before definitive therapy can begin. For many years, a simple staging system has been used to separate small cell lung cancer into two stages: limited and extensive. More recently, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) developed a new TNM (tumor, node, metastasis) system of staging that classifies small cell lung cancer into several categories ranging from Stage 0 to Stage IV.2 Because the two-stage system continues to guide treatment decisions, that is the system that is used on this website.

Limited and extensive small cell lung cancer are treated differently; therefore, your primary cancer doctor will perform a variety of tests to determine the stage of the disease and thus, the optimal treatment strategy. If these staging tests suggest that your cancer is confined to one side of your chest, then you will be diagnosed with limited stage small cell lung cancer. Otherwise, you will be diagnosed with extensive disease. Select from the following general stages of cancer in order to learn more about treatment options.

Limited Small Cell Lung Cancer: The cancer is confined to a single side of the chest.

Extensive Small Cell Lung Cancer: The cancer is not confined to a single side of the chest.

Recurrent/Relapsed: The lung cancer has been detected or returned (recurred/relapsed) following an initial treatment.


1 Govindan R, Page N, Morgensztern D et al. Changing epidemiology of small-cell lung cancer in the United States over the last 30 years: analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiologic, and End Results database. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2006; 24:4539-44.

2 Shepherd FA, Crowley J, Van Houtte P, et al. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer lung cancer staging project: proposals regarding the clinical staging of small cell lung cancer in the forthcoming (seventh) edition of the tumor, node, metastasis classification for lung cancer. J Thorac Oncol. 2007;2:1067-1077

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Lung Cancer FACT SHEET

Lung cancer develops in the tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. It is responsible for the most cancer-related deaths in both men and women in Texas. The most common type, non-small cell lung cancer, accounts for approximately 80-85% of lung cancers. Lung cancer can be treated and is often preventable, but only 19% of men and 27% of women live more than five years beyond their initial diagnosis.

Mike Diers

Patient Story: Mike Diers

“A lot of people look at cancer as if they’re walking in a dark tunnel toward a pinprick of light,” said Mike. “It’s better to reverse that and enjoy the present and all the light that’s around you right now.”