Metastatic Lung Cancer
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When lung cancer cells break away from a tumor and travel to other parts of your body through the blood or lymph system, this is called metastatic lung cancer. Lung cancer can be metastatic at the time of diagnosis, or following treatment. Since symptoms do not develop when lung cancer is present, it is common for the cancer to metastasize before it is diagnosed.
Even though the cancer may have formed a tumor in a new location in the body, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, it is called metastatic lung cancer. The most common sites of metastases for lung cancer are the other lung, adrenal gland, bones, brain and liver. If you have been treated for lung cancer and now have cancer cells in any of these areas, it is most likely that the lung cancer that has spread.
Metastatic lung cancer is not the same as recurrent lung cancer. Recurrent lung cancer is cancer that returns to the same part of the same lung after treatment, rather than travelling to other parts of the body. If cancer develops in the lung that wasn’t previously affected, it is almost always a new metastasized cancer, not a recurrence. In all cases, a metastatic tumor is always caused by cancer cells migrating from another part of the body.
Metastatic Lung Cancer Risk Factors
Anyone can develop metastatic lung cancer, especially because patients with lung cancer do not often demonstrate symptoms before the diagnosis. For about 40 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease has already begun to metastasize into other parts of the body.
Metastatic lung cancer risk factors may include:
- Type of Lung Cancer: Small cell lung cancer is aggressive and spreads at a faster rate than non-small cell lung cancer. Large cell carcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer, also spreads rapidly.
- Smoking: For smokers, the amount and rate at which you smoke can increase your chances of lung cancer. Since the symptoms often go unnoticed, the chance of the cancer spreading is also high.
Metastatic Lung Cancer Symptoms
Metastatic lung cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread, as well as the size and location. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms, though about 30 percent to 40 percent of people with lung cancer will have symptoms of metastases.
- If the cancer has spread to the bones, it may cause bone pain, often in the vertebrae or ribs. Other symptoms include fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
- If either the brain or spinal cord are affected, symptoms may include headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech or seizures.
In some cases, when lung cancer spreads, paraneoplastic syndrome can occur as a result of the body’s response to a tumor, rather than from the cancer itself. Paraneoplastic syndrome can cause symptoms to appear in other areas of the body, and awareness of these symptoms may help with diagnosing lung cancer.
Symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome include muscle cramps, muscle weakness, elevation of calcium in the blood and clubbing, which refers to a change in the shape of the finger tips.
- Cushing Syndrome – This syndrome develops when the adrenal glands produce excess amounts of a hormone that regulates the secretion of cortisol. Common symptoms may include weight gain, weakness and high blood pressure.
- Lambert-Eaton Syndrome – This condition is characterized by muscle weakness, particularly around the hips and shoulders. Trouble standing after sitting for a while is sometimes the first sign of this nervous system problem.
- Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-Diuretic Hormone (SIADH) – This may cause the kidneys to retain water. When this happens, the salt levels in the body are affected and can lead to fatigue, muscular weakness, cramps, nausea, vomiting and confusion.
Metastatic Lung Cancer Treatment
The most appropriate metastatic lung cancer treatment plan will depend on the location and size of the tumor, your age, general health and other factors. Your cancer care team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) will work with you to design a treatment plan that helps you fight metastatic lung cancer on all fronts while meeting your unique needs.
Surgery is usually not an option once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, but CTCA offers a number of metastatic lung cancer treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and interventional pulmonology. Supplemental therapies are also available, such as nutritional therapy, pain management, spiritual support, naturopathic medicine and more. If you or a loved one is fighting metastatic lung cancer and would like to learn more about the treatments we offer and how CTCA is different from other facilities, call 1-800-615-3055 or Chat With Us Online anytime