Introduction: Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive malignancy characterized by early metastatic dissemination and responsiveness to initial therapy. The incidence of SCLC has been declining over the past two decades. Limited-stage SCLC is a potentially curable disease with long-term survival of ∼ 20% when treated with platinum-based chemotherapy plus concurrent thoracic radiation and prophylactic cranial irradiation. For patients with extensive-stage SCLC, survival can be increased with combination platinum-based chemotherapy, but the disease remains incurable.
Areas covered: This review looks at the current advances in pharmacotherapy for SCLC.
Expert opinion: Many chemotherapeutic strategies and newer cytotoxic agents have been evaluated in SCLC, and some had promising activity in early clinical trials. However, none have demonstrated consistent improvements in outcome over standard platinum-based treatment. Similarly, although many potential molecular targets have been identified in preclinical studies of SCLC, molecularly targeted therapy has yet to demonstrate any substantial activity in clinical trials. Nonetheless, future advances in this disease will undoubtedly depend on improvements in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that drive the proliferation and survival of SCLC cells.
Keywords: carboplatin; chemotherapy; cisplatin; etoposide; irinotecan; molecularly targeted therapy; radiotherapy; small cell lung cancer.