Surgery in small-cell lung carcinoma. Where is the rationale?

Francesco Leo, Ugo Pastorino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the keys of current management of SCLC. For many years, the diagnosis of small cell lung cancer has been considered a contraindication to surgery because radiotherapy was at least equivalent in terms of local control and the rate of resetcability of SCLC patients was poor. The role of surgery has been defined by evidence accumulated in the last 30 years but conclusions are limited by the fact that the most important studies are dated and conducted when the main staging tool was exploratory thoracotomy. The rationale for surgery in the context of SCLC is based on 3 factors 1) Several historical series on patients operated for limited SCLC reported some long term survivors, showing that permanent cure can be achieved. For this reason, it. is now accepted that for the rare patients with very limited stage disease (T1-T2 tumors) surgical resection followed by platinum-based chemotherapy could be offered. 2) After chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the rate of local relapse is 20-30%. The assumption that surgery might be superior to radiotherapy in local control of limited SCLC has been suggested but not still proved. 3) Surgery can precisely assess pathological response to chemotherapy, identify carcinoids erroneously diagnosed as SCLC, treat the NSCLC component of tumors with a mixed histology. In the case of planned surgery, preoperative investigations should be completed by MRI of the brain, mediastinoscopy (to rule out subclinical N2/N3 patients) and probably PET scan. Even if some controversies exist, it is accepted that surgery can be proposed as the first treatment in patents with T1-T2 lesions without sign of lymph nodes involvement, followed by adjuvant chemotherapy. Surgery in stage II and III must be planned on a multidisc plinar basis, in the context of controlled clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-181
Number of pages6
JournalSeminars in Surgical Oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Multidisciplinary protocols
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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