Metastatic lung cancer is cancer that originates in the lungs, and then spreads, causing the development of secondary tumors in other areas of the body. Globally, lung cancer is extremely common and it is a leading cause of cancer death in no small part because it can be very aggressive and may metastasize before it is identified or in spite of treatment. Management of metastatic lung cancer requires addressing the primary and secondary cancers with a variety of treatments with the goal of stopping and shrinking the growth.
From the point of view of the cancer, the lungs are an excellent place to establish. They are supplied by a rich network of blood vessels, making it very easy for cancers to spread throughout the body from the lungs. Some common sites for metastatic lung cancer include lymph nodes close to the lungs, the bones, the liver, the adrenal gland, and the brain. Patients with metastatic lung cancer can experience a variety of symptoms including shortness of breath, hormone imbalances, and neurological problems, depending on where the cancer has spread.
In a patient suspected of having any kind of cancer, medical imaging studies are used to look for tumors. These can include studies with contrast materials to highlight structures in the body. If abnormal growths are spotted, a biopsy sample is taken to find out what kinds of cells are involved. With multiple growths in different parts of the body, part of the goal is to find out where the cancer originated, as different cancers require different approaches to treatment.
No matter where the cancer is located, if it contains lung cells, it is considered a lung cancer. Patients with metastatic lung cancer may be advised to have surgery to excise tumors, along with undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The prognosis varies, depending on the precise type of cancer and the extent of the spread. Generally, the more advanced the cancer, the worse the prognosis, especially if it has penetrated into the brain.
When patients are diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, they will be given information about the type and stage of the cancer. This information is used to develop a treatment plan. Patients may want to ask an oncologist for a complete rundown of all their treatment options, including no treatment. The doctor should provide information about what to expect from treatment and the estimated prognosis. For patients who opt not to treat advanced cancers, referrals to hospice care are available to manage pain and discomfort.