The size of small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) cells has often been ambiguously defined as one and a half to four times that of a lymphocyte. The purpose of this study was to determine the ratio of nuclear diameter (ND) of SCLC cells to that of lymphocytes in the same tissue sections and to assess whether the size of SCLC cells correlates with the size of tumor specimens and crush artifact. The overall mean ND (microns +/- SD) of SCLC cells was 9.2 +/- 2.1, found in 36 oat cell carcinomas (OAT, 1,800 nuclei) and 16 intermediate cell carcinomas (INT, 800 nuclei). The mean ND of OAT and INT cells was 8.1 +/- 1.3 and 11.6 +/- 1.5, respectively. The mean ND of lymphocytes (2,600 nuclei) was 5.2 +/- 0.3. The overall mean of ND ratios (+/- SD) between SCLC cells and lymphocytes was 1.8 +/- 0.4 (median, 1.7), 1.6 +/- 0.2 for OAT and 2.2 +/- 0.3 for INT. The mean size of the 52 SCLC biopsy specimens was 0.6 +/- 0.9 cm. Of all the biopsies, 84.6% (n = 44) showed various degrees of tissue crushing. The ND of SCLC cells was associated with specimen size (P = .004) and the degree of tissue crushing (P = .001). Therefore, our findings further support the hypothesis that OAT should be considered the effect of artifact rather than a true variant of SCLC and that the ND of SCLC cells is approximately two times that of lymphocytes.