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As with any type of cancer, treatment for small cell lung cancer varies depending on many factors. In Moffitt Cancer Center’s Thoracic Oncology Program, our multispecialty lung cancer treatment team develops an individualized treatment plan for every patient. They take many things into consideration, such as the cancer’s stage, the possible side effects of treatment and the patient’s overall health and lung function.

Small cell lung cancer treatment options

A patient’s treatment plan might include any of the following therapies, either on their own or in conjunction with each other.

Systemic therapies

Systemic therapy uses intravenous or oral medications to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. The systemic therapies used for treating small cell lung cancer include chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy may involve one drug or a combination of drugs, and is administered on a set schedule over a specific period of time. Due to the fast-spreading nature of small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy is usually the primary treatment.

Immunotherapy involves drugs that inhibit or improve immune system function. Testing can be done to determine if a tumor has certain biomarkers, or biological characteristics, that indicate the cancer might respond favorably to this type of treatment.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can be used on its own, in combination with chemotherapy or following surgery to treat residual cancer cells in the chest. With this form of treatment, high-energy X-rays are used to destroy cancerous cells. Typically, radiation therapy is delivered externally with a machine (external-beam radiation therapy) for the treatment of small cell lung cancer.


Surgery is used less frequently for treating small cell lung cancer than for treating non-small cell lung cancer, mainly because small cell lung cancer has usually spread by the time it is discovered. However, when small cell lung cancer is diagnosed in an early stage, surgery may be an option. Nearby lymph nodes are also removed to check for metastasis (spread) of cancerous cells.

If you’d like to discuss your treatment options with Moffitt’s oncologists specializing in small cell lung cancer, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral to visit Moffitt Cancer Center.