Because SCLC spreads quickly throughout the body, treatment must include cancer-killing drugs (chemotherapy) taken by mouth or injected into the body.
Treatment with both chemotherapy and radiation is done for people with SCLC that has spread throughout the body. In this case, the treatment only helps relieve symptoms. It does not cure the disease.
Radiation therapy can be used with chemotherapy if surgery is not possible. Radiation therapy uses powerful x-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells.
Radiation may be used to:
- Treat the cancer, along with chemotherapy, if surgery is not possible
- Help relieve symptoms caused by the cancer, such as breathing problems and swelling
- Help relieve cancer pain when the cancer has spread to the bones
Often, SCLC may have already spread to the brain. This can occur even when there are no symptoms or other signs of cancer in the brain. As a result, some patients with smaller cancers, or who had a good response in their first round of chemotherapy may receive radiation therapy to the brain. This method is called prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI).
Surgery helps very few patients with SCLC because the disease has often spread by the time it is diagnosed. Surgery may be done when there is only one tumor that has not spread. If surgery is done, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is still needed.