Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer is also known as “oat-cell” cancer because the cells look like oats under the microscope. It often starts in the bronchi, then quickly grows and spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes. This type of lung cancer represents fewer than 20 percent of lung cancers and is typically caused by tobacco smoking.

Small cell lung cancer is divided into two types, named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope:

  • Small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer)
  • Combined small cell carcinoma

Treatment

Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the main treatment options for small cell lung cancer. This type of lung cancer is typically found in both lungs, which often requires surgery followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Laser therapy, which uses a laser beam to kill cancer cells, may be another option to treat SCLC in some cases.

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Our experts answer frequently asked questions about lung cancer.