Small Cell Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

For people with small cell lung cancer, regardless of stage, chemotherapy is an essential part of treatment. Radiation treatment may be used as well depending on the stage of cancer.

For people with limited-stage small cell lung cancer, combination chemotherapy plus radiation therapy given at the same time is the recommended treatment. The most commonly used initial chemotherapy regimen is etoposide (Toposar or Vepesid) plus cisplatin (Platinol), known as EP.

For people with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy alone using the EP regimen is the standard treatment. However, another regimen that may be used is carboplatin (Paraplatin) plus irinotecan (Camptosar)

Radiation therapy of the brain may be used before or after chemotherapy for some people whose cancer has spread to the brain.

Preventive Radiation Therapy to the Brain

In more than half of the people with small cell lung cancer, the cancer also spreads to the brain. For people whose lung cancer has responded to chemotherapy, doctors may prescribe radiation therapy to the brain to help prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain. This procedure is known as prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI). This can benefit patient with both limited-stage and extensive-stage small cell lung cancers.


A very small percentage of people who have limited-stage small cell lung cancer and no lymph node tumors may benefit from surgery, after which adjuvant chemotherapy is given.