Chemotherapy for Small Cell Lung Cancer

At NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, medical oncologists may use chemotherapy, drugs that destroy cancer cells throughout the body, to treat people who have small cell lung cancer. If the cancer has not spread beyond the chest, chemotherapy may be combined with radiation therapy, the use of high energy beams to destroy cancer cells. However, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be the only treatment used.

The chemotherapy drugs used for small cell lung cancer are usually given through a vein as an intravenous (IV) infusion. Two of the more common combinations of drugs prescribed by doctors are etoposide plus cisplatin and etoposide plus carboplatin.

VIDEO: Using chemotherapy to treat lung cancer.

Chemotherapy is usually given during a treatment period called a cycle. For small cell lung cancer, a single cycle lasts about three or four weeks and consists of an IV infusion for several hours each day, for a few days in one week, followed by a period of rest. The time in between cycles, during which you are not receiving chemotherapy, allows your body to recover. People with small cell lung cancer may need four to six cycles of chemotherapy.

Small cell lung cancer tends to respond well to chemotherapy initially, but the cancer may eventually return. Sometimes doctors use the same drugs a second time if the medications provided a long-lasting response the first time. They may use other drugs if the cancer has returned after just a few months. The drugs used most often include topotecan, irinotecan, ifosfamide, etoposide, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and vincristine.

Managing Side Effects

Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue, which our doctors can often manage by adjusting the dose, prescribing additional medications, or referring you for support, such as through our integrative health services.

Integrative Health Services

We can help relieve side effects and stress caused by treatments for small cell lung cancer.

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VIDEO: Frequently asked questions about using chemotherapy to treat lung cancer.

Neuropathy, a condition that affects sensation and strength in the arms, legs, hands, feet, and elsewhere in the body, can be a late side effect of chemotherapy. It may also lead to weakness and difficulty balancing and walking. Doctors at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation can help manage these symptoms and coordinate rehabilitation programs to improve your strength, balance, walking, and physical function.