Priya Menon Priya Menon Scientific Media Editor at Curetalk

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) Vs Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC): Quick Fact Sheet

Small cell lung cancer vs non-small cell lung cancer

Lung Cancer has the highest mortality among cancers.

Cancer that is formed in the tissues of the lungs (lung cancer) are classified into two main types, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) based on how the cancer cells appear under the microscope. Let us take a comparative look at the lung cancer types:

Small Cell Lung Cancer


Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer


Rate of growthFast growing type of cancer.Not as fast growing as SCLC.
  • Small cell carcinoma (Oat cell cancer)
  • Combined small cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma – found outside the lung
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – found in center of lung
  • Large cell carcinoma – anywhere in the lung.
Incidence and Spread15% of all lung cancer cases are SCLC. It is more common in men than women. This is considered the most aggressive form of lung cancer. The cancer cells are small and begin in the bronchi in the center of the chest.75% of all lung cancers are NSCLC.
MetastasisSmall cell lung cancer cells spread to brain, bone, and liver.NSCLC spreads to other lung, liver, brain, lymph nodes, small intestine
SymptomsBloody sputum, cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, shortness of breath, wheezing etc.Chest pain, cough that does not go away, fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, wheezing, joint pain, weakness
CausesCigarette smoking. SCLC is rarely detected in non-smokers.Cigarette smoking is the major cause. However, passive smokers are also susceptible. Air pollution, drinking water with high arsenic content, exposure to asbestos, chloride, formaldehyde, alloys etc, as well as medical history is other contributing factors.
TestsBone scan, chest x-ray, serological tests, biopsy, pleural biopsy, video assisted thoracoscopyMRI of chest, CT scan of chest, PET scan, sputum test, biopsy, CT scan directed needle biopsy, open lung biopsy, pleural biopsy
TreatmentChemotherapy, combination chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Surgery is not a very common treatment for SCLC since the cancer would have spread by the time it is diagnosed. Nevertheless, if there is only one tumor that has not spread, surgery can be opted for.Treatment depends on stage of cancer. Surgery is the most opted for treatment by NSCLC patients. This can be followed by chemotherapy, radiation treatment, laser therapy, photodynamic therapy.
  • Limited – cancer spread is confined to chest area and can be treated with radiation therapy.
  • Extensive – cancer has spread outside chest
  • Stage 0 – cancer spread is limited to inner lining of lung
  • Stage I – cancer is small and has not spread to lymph nodes
  • Stage II – cancer spreads to lymph nodes near tumor
  • Stage III – cancer has spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes far away
  • Stage IV – cancer has spread to other organs of the body
PrognosisOnly about 6% of people diagnosed with SCLC live for 5 years after diagnosis. Survival can be prolonged for about 6 to 12 months with treatment once cancer spreads.
  • Stage I and II cancers have highest rates of cure and survival.
  • Stage III cancers sometimes get cured.
  • Stage IV or people in which cancer has returned are not cured. Therapies aim to prolong life and improve quality of life.

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