What is Oat Cell Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Oat cell cancer is a form of a cancer characterized by the distinctly oat-like shape of the cancer cells. It is most commonly found in the lungs, although it can also originate in the prostate, and it is sometimes referred to as small cell lung cancer (SCLC). This type of cancer is extremely aggressive and the prognosis for the patient can be grim if it is not identified early, as the cancer may quickly metastasize to neighboring regions of the body, including the bones. Oat cell cancer can be treated with chemotherapy and radiation to kill off the cells, and in some cases surgical resection can be performed to remove cancerous cells from the body.

This cancer appears to arise in neuroendrocine cells. Oat cell cancer has been linked with a situation known as paraneoplastic syndrome, in which the patient develops symptoms as a result of the cancer which are not caused by presence of cancer cells, but rather by substances secreted by the cancer cells. In the case of oat cell cancer, the patient can experience neurological symptoms such as numbness and tingling, along with hormone imbalances, and these symptoms can be early indicators of the cancer.


If a doctor suspects that a patient has oat cell cancer, a biopsy can be performed to take a sample of cells for closer examination. SCLC is very obvious when the sample is examined by a pathologist. The biopsy may also include sampling of neighboring areas of the body to determine whether or not the cancer has spread, for the purpose of staging it to determine which course of treatment would be most suitable.

Once oat cell cancer is identified, it needs to be treated promptly and aggressively. An oncologist can work with an interventional radiologist and other medical care providers to get necessary treatment for the patient. Patients may want to discuss their prognosis and the treatment options before plunging into a treatment program, to determine the best option for their specific situation.

The most common risk factor for the development of oat cell cancer is smoking or other forms of tobacco exposure. While this cancer can be seen in nonsmokers, it is most commonly seen among people with a history of exposure to tobacco. People can greatly reduce their risks of developing this aggressive form of cancer by not consuming tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.


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Post 3

@ddljohn-- Early diagnosis may be difficult, but prevention isn't. Most cases of lung cancer are due to smoking. Smoking can even cause cancer in other parts of the body like the windpipe, the stomach and intestines. So if people want to prevent oat cell cancer and cancer in general, don't smoke! Especially those with oat cell cancer in their family need to be overcautious.

As far as I know, new screening tests to check for lung cancer have been developed by doctors. So people who are at risk, such as those with cancer in their families can get checked once a year to be on the safe side. Early diagnosis has always been key for successful cancer treatment.

Post 2

@fify-- It's not very common. As far as I know, only about 15% of lung cancer is oat cell cancer. The percentage may be even less, different sources cite different numbers. You are absolutely right, this cancer is very dangerous and it's a good think that most types of cancer are not oat cell cancer.

It's also true that this type of cancer usually doesn't get diagnosed until it's in the late stages. This does reduce survival rate. Some people have early diagnosis by accident when they visit the doctor and get tests for other things.

Post 1

How common is oat cell cancer, specifically, in the lungs? Are most of lung cancer this variety?

My uncle died recently from oat cell cancer. The cancer started in his lungs and spread to the surrounding tissues very quickly. When it was diagnosed, it has spread far too much to treat. My uncle died a few months afterward.

I'm hoping that most lung cancer doesn't fit this category but this cancer spreads and kills extremely quickly. I don't know the percentages, but I doubt that most people survive it if diagnosed in the advanced stages.

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