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Is small cell or non-small cell lung cancer worse?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Dec 27, 2023.

Official answer


Generally, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is worse than non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC accounts for about 10%-15% of people who have lung cancer and is the most aggressive form of lung cancer. In a person with SCLC, the cancerous cells appear small and round under a microscope, in comparison to people with NSCLC whose cells are larger.

SCLC usually starts in the breathing tubes (bronchi), and although the cells are small, they grow very quickly and create large tumors. 95% of people who develop SCLC have a history of smoking. Early on in the course of the disease, there are rarely any symptoms. If caught early (limited-stage disease) 20%-25% of people can be potentially cured. Extensive SCLC is more difficult to treat.

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer. Rare diseases. Rare Diseases.,year%20in%20the%20United%20States.
  • Lung cancer - small cell Medline Plus

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