Small-cell lung cancer is an aggressive type of lung cancer. It usually spreads to distant organs before it’s diagnosed. Tumors may double in size roughly every 1–7 months.
Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is one of the two main categories of lung cancer along with non-small lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC is expected to make up about
SCLC tends to be aggressive and spreads quickly. Despite improvements in treatment, about
- the brain
- distant lymph nodes
The actual growth rate of SCLC can vary widely but is usually faster than NSCLC.
In this article, we look at how fast SCLC tends to grow and how its growth rate compares with NSCLC.
Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) tends to be more aggressive than other types of lung cancer, such as NSCLC. SCLC has usually already spread to distant organs by the time it’s diagnosed.
Doctors most commonly divide SCLC into limited- and extensive-stage diseases.
When SCLC is contained to a small section of your lung that can be treated with one radiation field, it’s called “limited-stage disease.” When SCLC is spread widely throughout your lungs or distant tissues, it’s referred to as an “extensive-stage disease.”
With treatment, about
Doctors often use a parameter called “doubling time” to predict how fast a cancer grows. Doubling time is a measure of how long it takes for cancer to double in volume after it’s diagnosed. SCLC tends to have a
For reference, in a 2020 study, researchers found that the doubling time of the most common type of NSCLC, adenocarcinoma, ranged from 278–872 days. The doubling time was more than 529 days in half of the 268 people in the study.
Another way that doctors measure cancer growth is by its mitotic count. The mitotic count measures how many cells within a tissue sample are dividing. A higher miotic count means the cancer is growing more quickly.
The miotic rate of SCLC is usually very high at about
- lymph nodes
- bone marrow
- adrenal glands
Most cases of SCLC
Standard treatment for extensive-stage disease includes:
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy involves taking drugs that stimulate your immune system to attack the cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs contain chemicals that destroy cancer cells and other cells that replicate quickly.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy involves aiming high-energy waves at your cancer to destroy cells. For lung cancer, doctors usually perform external beam radiation in which they use a machine outside your body to administer radiation.
- Prophylactic cranial irradiation: Prophylactic cranial irradiation involves administering radiation to your brain to prevent the future spread of cancer.
Doctors often report cancer survival statistics using 5-year relative survival rates. A 5-year relative survival rate measures how many people with a type of cancer are alive 5 years later compared with people without the cancer.
The 5-year Survival, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)
|5-year relative survival rate (%)
|All SEER stages
Learn more about the life expectancy of SCLC.
SCLC is an aggressive type of cancer that has usually spread beyond the lungs by the time it’s diagnosed. The overall outlook of SCLC remains poor despite improvements in treatment in recent years.
Doctors often use a doubling rate to measure how quickly cancer grows. The doubling rate of SCLC has been reported anywhere from
The most common type of lung cancer, called “NSCLC,” tends to grow much slower.
A doctor can help you decide the best treatment for your cancer based on factors such as how far your cancer has spread, your overall health, and your personal preferences.