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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The epidemiology and survival of extrapulmonary small cell carcinoma in South East England, 1970–2004

Yien Ning S Wong*, Ruth H Jack, Vivian Mak, Møller Henrik and Elizabeth A Davies

Author Affiliations

King's College London, Thames Cancer Registry, 1st Floor, Capital House, 42 Weston Street, London SE1 3QD, UK

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BMC Cancer 2009, 9:209  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-209

Published: 29 June 2009



Extrapulmonary small cell carcinoma (EPSCC) is a rare cancer and few studies describe its epidemiology. Our objectives were to compare the incidence and survival of EPSCC in South East England with small cell carcinoma of the lung (SCLC), to determine the most common anatomical presenting sites for EPSCC and to compare survival in EPSCC by disease stage and site of diagnosis.


We used data from the Thames Cancer Registry database for South East England between 1970 and 2004 to determine the incidence, most common anatomical sites, and survival by site, and stage of EPSCC. 1618 patients registered with EPSCC were identified. We calculated the age-standardised incidence rate for EPSCC using the European standard population and compared this to that for SCLC. We calculated survival using the Kaplan-Meier method for EPSCC and SCLC, and reported 3-year survival for different EPSCC anatomical sites and disease stages.


The incidence of EPSCC was much lower than for SCLC, similar in males and females, and stable throughout the study period, with incidence rates of 0.45 per 100,000 in males and 0.37 in females during 2000–2004. In general, patients with EPSCC had a better 3-year survival (19%) than SCLC (5%). The most common anatomical sites for EPSCC were oesophagus (18%), other gastrointestinal (15%), genitourinary (20%), head and neck (11%), and breast (10%). Breast EPSCC had the best 3-year survival (60%) and gastrointestinal EPSCC the worst (7%).


This study suggests that EPSCC has a stable incidence and confirms that it presents widely, but most commonly in the oesophagus and breast. Site and extent of disease influence survival, with breast EPSCC having the best prognosis. Further studies using standardised diagnosis, prospective case registers for uncommon diseases and European cancer registries are needed to understand this disease.