Small cell lung cancer: a slightly less orphan disease after immunotherapy

Ann Oncol. 2021 Jun;32(6):698-709. doi: 10.1016/j.annonc.2021.02.025. Epub 2021 Mar 15.


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive malignancy accounting for 15% of all diagnosed cases of lung cancer. After >15 years without any clinically relevant therapeutic advances, extensive-disease SCLC has become the second thoracic malignancy for which immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have shifted the treatment paradigm to improve overall survival. Today, atezolizumab or durvalumab in combination with platinum-etoposide chemotherapy is considered the new standard of care in the first-line setting in SCLC. However, the magnitude of benefit with this immune-chemotherapy strategy in SCLC is more modest than that observed in metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer patients. The immunosuppressive phenotype of SCLC plays an important role in hampering ICI efficacy and may explain the differences in outcomes between these two types of lung cancer. In this review, we provide a summary of recent therapeutic advances in SCLC in light of ICIs, as well as current challenges of this strategy in patients who are elderly, have poor performance status or brain metastases. We also address future perspectives of immunotherapeutic strategies currently in clinical development for these patients.

Keywords: PD-L1; immunophenotype; immunotherapy; small-cell lung cancer; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Rare Diseases
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / drug therapy