Lung Cancer - Small Cell: Statistics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the number of people who are diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors, and no 2 people with cancer are the same. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every person is different, with different factors influencing their risk of being diagnosed with this cancer and the chance of recovery after a diagnosis. It is important to talk with your doctor about any questions you have around the general statistics provided below and what they may mean for you individually. The original sources for these statistics are provided at the bottom of this page.

How many people are diagnosed with SCLC?

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. About 14% of people diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States have SCLC.

In 2023, an estimated 238,440 adults (117,550 men and 120,790 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Worldwide, an estimated 2,206,771 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020. These statistics include people diagnosed with both SCLC and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

In the United States, SCLC is slightly less common in men (13%) compared to women (14%). The risk of lung cancer increases with age. Both men and women are most likely to be diagnosed with SCLC between the ages of 75 and 79.

Since around 2006, incidence rates in the United States dropped by over 1% each year in women compared to 2.6% each year in men. Although Black men have the highest lung cancer rates, they are less likely to get SCLC than White men.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women worldwide. In in the United States, it is estimated that 127,070 deaths (67,160 men and 59,910 women) from this disease will occur in 2023. In 2020, an estimated 1,796,144 people died from the disease worldwide.

What is the survival rate for SCLC?

There are different types of statistics that can help doctors evaluate a person’s chance of recovery from SCLC. These are called survival statistics. A specific type of survival statistic is called the relative survival rate. It is often used to predict how having cancer may affect life expectancy. Relative survival rate looks at how likely people with SCLC are to survive for a certain amount of time after their initial diagnosis or start of treatment compared to the expected survival of similar people without this cancer.

Example: Here is an example to help explain what a relative survival rate means. Please note this is only an example and not specific to this type of cancer. Let’s assume that the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type of cancer is 90%. “Percent” means how many out of 100. Imagine there are 1,000 people without cancer, and based on their age and other characteristics, you expect 900 of the 1,000 to be alive in 5 years. Also imagine there are another 1,000 people similar in age and other characteristics as the first 1,000, but they all have the specific type of cancer that has a 5-year survival rate of 90%. This means it is expected that 810 of the people with the specific cancer (90% of 900) will be alive in 5 years.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with SCLC are only an estimate. They cannot tell an individual person if cancer will or will not shorten their life. Instead, these statistics describe trends in groups of people previously diagnosed with the same disease, including specific stages of the disease.

The 5-year relative survival rate for people with SCLC in the United States is 8% for women and 6% for men.

The survival rates for SCLC vary based on several factors. These include the stage of cancer, a person’s age and general health, and how well the treatment plan works.

For people with localized SCLC, which means the cancer has not spread outside of the lung, the overall 5-year survival rate is 30%. Around 94% of people with SCLC are diagnosed after the cancer has spread outside the lung. For regional SCLC, which means the cancer has spread outside of the lung to nearby areas, the 5-year survival rate is 18%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 3%. However, some people with advanced lung cancer can live many years after diagnosis.

Sometimes, patients who are told that their lung cancer is curable do not live as long as those who are told that their lung cancer cannot be cured. The important thing to remember is that lung cancer is treatable at any stage, and these treatments have been proven to help people with lung cancer live longer with better quality of life.

Experts measure relative survival rate statistics for SCLC every 5 years. This means the estimate may not reflect the results of advancements in how SCLC is diagnosed or treated from the last 5 years. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2023 and Cancer Facts & Figures 2022, the ACS website, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer website. (All sources accessed February 2023.)

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers drawings of body parts often affected by SCLC. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.