Lung Cancer - Small Cell: Statistics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the number of people who are diagnosed with SCLC each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. Use the menu to see other pages.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. This year, an estimated 235,760 adults (119,100 men and 116,660 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer. This includes people diagnosed with both SCLC and NSCLC. However, since the mid-2000s, lung cancer incidence rates have dropped by around 2% each year. About 13% of people diagnosed with lung cancer have SCLC. 

The number of new lung cancer cases in men has been dropping annually since the mid-1980s. In women, the number of new cases diagnosed each year started dropping in the mid-2000s. Incidence rates are dropping faster in men than in in women. Although Black men are more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, they are less likely to get SCLC.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. It is estimated that 131,880 (69,410 men and 62,470 women) deaths from this disease will occur this year.

Lung cancer makes up around 25% of cancer deaths. However, death rates from lung cancer have declined by 54% since 1990 in men and 30% in women since 2002. From 2014 to 2018, the death rates for men with the disease dropped by 5% each year. The death rates for women declined 4% per year. Research indicates that these declines are due to more people not smoking, more people quitting smoking, and medical advances in diagnosis and treatment.

The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. Percent means how many out of 100. The general 5-year survival rate for people with SCLC is 7%.

It is important to note that survival rates depend on several factors, including the stage of disease. For people with localized SCLC, which means the cancer has not spread outside of the lung, the overall 5-year survival rate is 27%. For regional SCLC, which means the cancer has spread outside of the lung to nearby areas, the 5-year survival rate is 16%. 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.

It is also important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with SCLC are an estimate. The estimate comes from annual data based on the number of people with this cancer in the United States. Also, experts measure the survival statistics every 5 years. So the estimate may not show the results of better diagnosis or treatment available for less than 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 2021, the ACS website, and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (sources accessed January 2021).

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.