Small and Oat Cell Carcinoma – Information & Support

Small cell lung cancer occurs when cancer cells form in lung tissue.

What are the different types?

There are two different types of small cell lung cancer: small cell carcinoma (also referred to as oat cell cancer) and combined small cell carcinoma. They include many different types of cells and they grow and spread in different ways. These two types are named by the way that the cells look when viewed under a microscope and the kind of cells found in the cancer.

What causes small cell lung cancer?

Smoking tobacco is the major cause of small cell lung cancer. Other causes include: exposure to second hand smoke and exposure to asbestos or radon. Remember: small cell lung cancer cannot be passed on to other people.

What are some of the symptoms?

Wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pains, blood in sputum (sputum is the mucus coughed up from the lungs), hoarseness, weight loss, fever, unrelenting cough and facial swelling.
TIP: If you or someone in your family have any of these symptoms then they should have them checked by a doctor – but remember they are common to many illnesses other than small cell lung cancer.

After visiting a GP, a referral to a hospital for tests is the next step. These may include:

  • Physical exam
  • PET Scan
  • CT scan (CAT scan) of the brain, chest, and abdomen.
  • Bronchoscopy- where they will look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for anything abnormal.
  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA)- A biopsy where a small needle is used to extract fluid or tissue from the lung.
  • Sputum cytology-this is where a microscope is used to check the sputum (mucus) for cancer cells.
  • Thoracoscopy- a procedure to look at the organs inside the chest to see if there is anything abnormal present.
  • Thoracentesis- this is where the fluid between the lining of the chest and the lung is removed using a needle.


Once someone has been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, the doctors will work out what ‘stage’ of cancer they have. This helps them identify the best treatment. The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size, position and whether it has spread beyond where it started in the body.

There are two stages for small cell lung cancer:

  • Limited-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: This means that the cancer is present in one lung, the nearby lymph nodes and in the tissue between the lungs.
  • Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: This means that the cancer has spread to parts of the body outside of the lung.

Once someone has been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer the team of doctors and other staff at the hospital will plan the treatment.

This may include:

Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer:

  • Chemotherapy is the main form of treatment for this type of cancer. It may be given on its own or before radiotherapy.
  • In some cases it is given at the same time as radiotherapy. This is known as chemoradiation.

For more information on chemotherapy, visit our chemotherapy page.

Radiotherapy for small cell lung cancer:

  • Radiation to the head, known as prophylactic cranial radiotherapy, is sometimes given to reduce the likelihood of the cancer spreading to the brain.

For more information on radiotherapy, visit our radiotherapy page.

Surgery for small cell lung cancer:

  • Surgery can only be used to treat small cell lung cancer if the cancer has been found very early.

If an operation is possible, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be given after surgery to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Join CanTeen’s online community to chat with other young people about small cell lung cancer, its treatment… or anything really.