Nanoscale semiconductor lasers have been developed recently using either metal, metallo-dielectric, or photonic crystal nanocavities. While the technology of nanolasers is steadily being deployed, their expected performance for on-chip optical interconnects is still largely unknown due to a limited understanding of some of their key features. Specifically, as the cavity size is reduced with respect to the emission wavelength, the stimulated and the spontaneous emission rates are modified, which is known as the Purcell effect in the context of cavity quantum electrodynamics. This effect is expected to have a major impact in the 'threshold-less' behavior of nanolasers and in their modulation speed; but its role is poorly understood in practical laser structures, characterized by significant homogeneous and inhomogeneous broadening and by a complex spatial distribution of the active material and cavity field. In this paper, we investigate the role of the Purcell effect in the stimulated and spontaneous emission rates of semiconductor lasers taking into account the carriers' spatial distribution in the volume of the active region over a wide range of cavity dimensions and emitter/cavity linewidths, enabling the detailed modeling of the static and dynamic characteristics of either micro-or nano-scale lasers using single-mode rate-equations analysis. The ultimate limits of scaling down these nanoscale light sources in terms of Purcell enhancement and modulation speed are also discussed showing that the ultrafast modulation properties predicted in nanolasers are a direct consequence of the enhancement of the stimulated emission rate via reduction of the mode volume.