Lung Cancer - Small Cell: Statistics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2022

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. Use the menu to see other pages.

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

This year, an estimated 236,740 adults (117,910 men and 118,830 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.

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. Between 2009 and 2018, incidence rates dropped 1.4% each year in women compared to 2.8% each year in men. 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 worldwide. In in the United States, it is estimated that 130,180 deaths (68,820 men and 61,630 women) from this disease will occur this year. In 2020, an estimated 1,796,144 people died from the disease worldwide.

Lung cancer makes up around 25% of cancer deaths in the United States. However, death rates from lung cancer have declined by 56% since 1990 in men and 32% since 2002 in women. From 2015 to 2019, 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 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. 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 2022, the ACS website, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer website. (All sources accessed January 2022.)

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.