Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) can metastasize, or spread, to the liver. Treatment will depend on the stage of the condition. Usually, doctors treat it with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of all three.

SCLC is a serious condition that causes cancerous cells to grow in lung tissue. These cancerous cells can also spread to other areas of the body. Doctors call this spreading of cancerous cells metastasis.

SCLC can be localized to the lung or regional to the surrounding tissues. It can also metastasize to distant areas, including the liver.

Keep reading to learn about the survival, symptoms, and treatment for people with metastatic SCLC to the liver.

A healthcare professional looking at x-rays of lung cancer that has spread to the kidneys.Share on Pinterest
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The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, accounting for around 25% of all deaths due to cancer.

However, the number of lung cancer cases has fallen in recent years, partially due to fewer people smoking.

Doctors typically measure life expectancy with cancer as a 5-year survival rate. This refers to the proportion of people who survive for at least 5 years after they receive their diagnosis.

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for SCLC is around 7% when combining all stages together. When breaking down 5-year survival into stages, the rates are as follows:

  • 27% for localized SCLC
  • 16% for regional SCLC
  • 3% for distant SCLC

When cancer spreads from the lungs to the liver, doctors describe it as distant SCLC. Only around 3% of people with distant SCLC will survive for 5 years from when they receive a diagnosis.

A 2016 study examined the outcomes of over 23,000 people with lung cancer. The study found that the average life expectancy of someone with SCLC that has metastasized to the liver is around 3 months. This was shorter for people with metastasis to the brain or bone, who lived for around 5–7 months.

Researchers have based these survival rates on the average from many different cases. However, survival rates are only ever an estimate, and life expectancy and prognosis will differ from person to person.

Doctors use various tests to diagnose SCLC and determine whether it has spread to other areas, such as the liver.

For example, they may use MRI or CT scans to check for abnormal growths around the chest or liver. They will also perform a biopsy to examine lung or liver tissue.

Additionally, doctors will ask about symptoms and possible risk factors, such as smoking, and check a person’s medical record and family history.

Determining whether cancerous cells have spread to the liver and other body parts is crucial for deciding on the most suitable treatment.

Doctors may rely on additional tests to check for metastasis. For example, they may use ultrasound scans, X-rays, or blood tests to see whether the cancer has spread.

Treatment for people with SCLC will depend on the stage of the condition.

Most people with SCLC that has spread to the liver will require chemotherapy. This involves taking drugs that target and kill cancer cells. However, chemotherapy drugs also attack healthy cells and can cause side effects, such as nausea and tiredness.

Doctors will typically combine chemotherapy with other treatments. For instance, they may prescribe immunotherapies, which help the body’s immune system identify and attack cancerous cells.

Another approach is combining chemotherapy with radiation therapy, which kills cancerous cells using high intensity radiation.

According to older research, surgery does not improve survival among people with SCLC that has spread to other organs.

Some people will respond well to treatment, which can stop or slow the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.

Another treatment option is palliative care alongside other forms of treatment. This is a need-based form of care that focuses on easing symptoms and improving a person’s quality of life.

For SCLC, palliative care might include opening airways blocked by tumors, or draining fluid that has built up around the lungs or heart.

Learn more about palliative care here.

Metastatic SCLC is a serious condition that can have a major impact on a person and those around them. It typically requires aggressive treatment, which can cause a range of side effects and complications.

Supporting someone with metastatic SCLC can improve their quality of life during this difficult time. The ACS recommends the following for supporting someone with cancer:

  • Regularly call and text them and try to be as responsive as possible.
  • Visit them in person to provide physical and emotional support.
  • Offer to help with errands, such as picking up groceries.
  • Give them small presents, such as something practical or enjoyable.

Everyone will respond differently to cancer, and they will require different kinds and amount of support. It is important to be adaptable and nonjudgmental when providing support to someone with metastatic SCLC.

SCLC is a serious condition that can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body, including the liver.

The prognosis for people with metastatic SCLC is generally poor, with most people surviving for a few months after diagnosis. However, life expectancy of some people with SCLC may be longer, especially if they respond well to early treatment.

Doctors will typically treat metastatic SCLC aggressively, using treatments such as chemotherapy.

Providing emotional and physical support to someone with SCLC can improve their quality of life.