Background The current prognosis in patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is unsatisfactory, even though there have been considerable improvements in diagnosis and treatment. Methods We retrospectively analyzed all consecutive patients with small cell lung carcinoma between 1995 and 2007 in a Turkish chest hospital. A total of 116 SCLC patients initially presented with limited disease, while 92 small cell lung carcinoma patients were found to be extensive. Results The mean age of the patients (18 women and 190 men) was 56 years. The median survival was 74 weeks. Performance status, superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS), stage, elevated white blood cell count, elevated lactate dehidrogenase levels, short symptom duration (a parts per thousand currency sign4 weeks) response to chemotherapy and bone metastasis were significant prognostic factors in univariate analysis. It was necessary for patients to receive at least three cycles of chemotherapy for a survival benefit. Cox proportional hazards model identified only stage, performance status and SVCS as independent prognostic factors. Conclusions Stage, performance status and SVCS were determined to be the most important prognostic factors for SCLC patients.