Treatment overview

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for people with small cell lung cancer. Radiotherapy may sometimes be given after the chemotherapy has finished. Sometimes chemotherapy and radiotherapy are given at the same time; this is known as chemoradiation.

Surgery is usually only used to treat people with small cell lung cancer if the cancer is found very early (limited disease). This is because the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body before being diagnosed, even if it can’t be seen on a scan.

If an operation is possible, chemotherapy may be given after surgery to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is known as adjuvant treatment.

The scans and tests used to diagnose the cancer may be repeated later, to see how you’re responding to treatment.

Small cell lung cancer can sometimes spread to the brain. A type of radiotherapy called prophylactic cranial radiotherapy may be given to the head to reduce the risk of this happening. It may be given to people with small cell lung cancer if chemotherapy to treat the lung tumour has worked very well, or if they’ve had surgery to remove the tumour.

Radiotherapy may also be used in people with advanced small cell lung cancer to relieve symptoms such as pain.

Back to Coming to your decision

How treatments are made available

Many cancer drugs are available on the NHS. Other cancer drugs may be accessible through other routes.

Finding out your treatment options

Knowing basic information about your type of cancer and different treatments options can help you to make an informed treatment decision.

What can you do if a treatment is not available?

You can apply or pay for many cancer drugs that are unavailable on the NHS.

Benefits, risks and side effects of treatment

Statistics can help you understand the benefits and risks of cancer treatments to help make decisions about treatment.

Making your decision

If  you’re struggling to come to a decision about treatment, try following these five steps.

Understanding your rights as an older person

Your age should not affect your standard of treatment and care. Know your rights as an older person living with cancer.

About alternative therapies

Be wary of alternative therapies that claim to cure cancer or slow its growth.