The main reason that cancer is so serious is its ability to spread in the body. Cancer cells can spread locally by moving into nearby normal tissue. Cancer can also spread regionally, to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs. And it can spread to distant parts of the body. When this happens, it is called metastatic cancer.
When observed under a microscope and tested in other ways, metastatic cancer cells have features like that of the primary cancer and not like the cells in the place where the cancer is found. This is how doctors can tell that it is cancer that has spread from another part of the body.
Metastatic cancer has the same name as the primary cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as stage IV breast cancer, not as lung cancer. Sometimes when people are diagnosed with metastatic cancer, doctors cannot tell where it started. This type of cancer is called cancer of unknown primary origin, or CUP.
Signs & Symptoms
Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, their nature and frequency will depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumors. Some common signs of metastatic cancer include:
- Pain and fractures – when cancer has spread to the bone
- Headache, seizures or dizziness – when cancer has spread to the brain
- Shortness of breath – when cancer has spread to the lung
- Jaundice or swelling in the belly – when cancer has spread to the liver
Once cancer spreads, it can be hard to control. Although some types of metastatic cancer can be cured with current treatments, most cannot. Even so, there are treatments for all patients with metastatic cancer. The goal of these treatments is to stop or slow the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms caused by it. In some cases, treatments for metastatic cancer may help prolong life. The treatment that you may have depends on your type of primary cancer, where it has spread, treatments you’ve had in the past, and your general health.
Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.