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A Closer Look: Small Cell Vs. Non-Small Lung Cancer

Southeast Radiation Oncology Center - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The American Cancer Society estimating about 222,500 new cases of lung cancer being diagnosed over the course of 2017. About 1 in 4 people die from lung cancer, which is a higher rate than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Despite these statistics, cancer treatment technology and procedures continue to advance, providing relief and treatment that can make living with cancer more comfortable, and extend life. At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we provide high quality radiation cancer therapy using state-of-the-art radiation technology and procedures out of our local Juneau, AK treatment center. You can start on the path to recovery with an experienced, caring team at your side.

When it comes to fighting the threat of lung cancer, the first step is understanding what we’re up against. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) & and non-small lung cancer (NSCLC). While their names are straightforward, the difference between these two go beyond the size of the cells. Below you can find more information about these two types of lung cancer.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

SCLC is the less common form of lung cancer, but it is by far the most dangerous. The cancer cells are very aggressive and grow much faster compared to the NSCLC type. This is because the SCLC cells possess a special protein called Ki-67, which drives cell proliferation for a rapid increase in cancerous cells. This type of lung cancer is much more common to develop in those who are or have been smokers. The survival rate of SCLC over a 5 year period is about 31%.

SCLC can be treated, with surgery and radiation therapy being the recommended treatment methods. Chemotherapy can be effective, since the prolific cancer cells quickly react to treatment and die off very quickly, but they also have a tendency to come back more aggressively than before, and become resistant to the drugs much faster. Since radiation therapy and surgery do not rely on drugs, these treatments can be more effective in the long run and provide a better chance of survival.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Compared to its small cell counterpart, NSCLC has a higher success rate with treatment, with a survival rate in a 5 years window of approximately 50%. While NSCLC in much more common, accounting for about 90% of all diagnosed cases of lung cancer, there are many more treatment options available to patients, including chemotherapy, radiation, and other targeted therapy or immunotherapy drugs. These drugs are more effective as treatment with NSCLC since the cancer cells are missing that Ki-67 protein, which makes it less likely for the cells to become immune to medication. However, since these cells do not have the same high degree of proliferation, the cells make take longer to die off after treatment.

Contact Your Local Cancer Treatment Center

If you have any questions about Non-Small Cell or Small Cell Lung Cancer, or treatment options for lung cancer, just contact the cancer treatment experts at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center.


At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we know that cancer patients are best served by being treated in close proximity to a support network of family and friends. We offer patients in Southeast Alaska the ability to receive state-of-the-art radiation therapy without the burden of traveling great distances away from home.The information presented on this website is provided to allow our patients to gain more knowledge about our center, our staff, and our services.