Computed tomography of the brain was performed as part of the initial staging evaluation of 84 patients with small cell lung cancer. Brain scans indicative of metastatic disease were obtained in 12 (14%) patients, two of whom had no neurologic signs or symptoms. One of these had no other extrathoracic disease. Brain scans without evidence of metastatic disease were obtained in 72 patients, 58 (80.5%) of whom had no signs or symptoms suggestive of metastatic intracranial disease. In the 14 patients with neurologic symptoms but negative computed tomographic scans, other explanations than brain metastases were found. It was concluded that head scanning is a sensitive and accurate method of detecting central nervous system metastases in patients with small cell lung cancer. However, head computed tomography should not be included as part of the initial staging evaluation of the neurologically asymptomatic patients. In only one of 60 such patients did the brain scan change the initial clinical staging, which included chest films, liver and bone scans, and bone marrow biopsy.