The survival of patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is related to T, N, M components, and early diagnosis and treatment of limited stage SCLC may improve survival. The objective of this study was to review the initial and annual repeat screening computed tomography (CT) images of all five patients with SCLC, encountered in our 1996-1998 population-based screening for lung cancer, to clarify any subtle, characteristic CT findings of early-stage small cell lung cancer. The medical records of the patients were reviewed to examine demographic and clinical features. We identified characteristic CT features of SCLC in the lung periphery, which were related to gross pathologic findings with longitudinal spread along the bronchial wall: a small spindle-shaped or pyramidal lesion was found as a subtle CT finding of SCLC, and irregularly shaped nodular lesions (vermiform, pine-cone-like or tandem-like nodular lesions) appeared at a more advanced stage. Tumour volume doubling time of the cases ranged from 38 days to 217 days. All five patients were male smokers: four patients underwent surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy; three of them remain alive, while the remaining patient, an interval case, died of lung cancer. One patient refused treatment and died of a cause other than lung cancer. Annual repeat CT screening was useful for detecting SCLC cases mostly at a curable stage, and information about CT features, presented here, should help physicians identify SCLC at an earlier-stage and lead to a more successful treatment of the disease.