Objective: The final outcome of patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is poor with an overall 5-year survival rate of less than 10%. Therefore, the question of surgery in patients with a technically-operable solitary tumor has been raised. The purpose of this study was to identify the proportion of patients with operable SCLC and to assess the prognosis of different treatment strategies. For patients who were operated, we compared the resection specimens from patients with more than 5-year survival with those with shorter survival to see whether the specimens belonged to different subclasses of SCLC.
Methods: In Norway all clinical and pathologic departments submit reports on cancer patients to the Cancer Registry. The Registry also has a law-regulated authority to collect supplemental information regarding diagnosis, treatment and outcome for all cancer patients from the hospitals in charge. All reports on patients diagnosed as having SCLC in limited disease or unknown stage during the time interval 1993-1999 were reviewed. Patients with a T2-tumor, in whom a pneumonectomy would have to be performed, were classified as potentially operable. Five-year relative survival was calculated for patients diagnosed in 1993-1997.
Results: During the actual period 2442 individuals with SCLC were identified. The majority was treated with conventional chemotherapy or concurrent chemoradiotherapy while 38 underwent surgical therapy. Following reclassification of 697 patients reported to have limited disease or unknown stage 180 were judged to be in stage I. In addition to the 38 resected patients 14 were considered fit for surgery technically and medically while 97 were found to be potentially operable treatment modalities apart from surgery yielded a 5-year survival rate <7%. For stage I (N=96) the rate was 11.3% in conventionally treated patients compared to 44.9% for those who underwent surgical resection. By pathological review of surgical specimens a diagnosis of SCLC was confirmed in all patients treated by surgery in the groups with long and short survival.
Conclusion: This investigation demonstrates that patients with SCLC having a peripherally located tumor should be referred to surgery, as long time survival is far better than for conventionally treated patients.