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 Understanding your diagnosis

Just been diagnosed?

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging and grading

The stage of a cancer describes how large it is and whether it has spread. Knowing the stage helps doctors plan the best treatment for you.

My Cancer Treatment

Macmillan is supporting a new online tool to help you make decisions about your treatment and care. The tool currently only covers England.