October 15, 2021

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Metastatic cancer: What does it mean if cancers spread and metastasize?

Metastatic cancer: What does it mean if cancers spread and metastasize?

Metastatic cancer: What does it mean if cancers spread and metastasize?

Metastatic cancer: What does it mean if cancers spread and metastasize? After cancer is cured, the most fearful thing is the recurrence or metastasis of the cancer.

“Metastasis” is a word that every cancer patient does not want to hear. But what exactly is cancer metastasis? What does it mean for your life and treatment? Can metastatic cancer be cured?

▌What is cancer metastasis?

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the human body proliferate uncontrollably. Sometimes these abnormal cells form a mass called a tumor. When these cells spread from their original location to other parts of the body, it is called metastatic cancer. When the cancer metastasizes, it means it has spread.

Regardless of where the cancer spreads, we generally classify it based on where it originally occurred. For example, breast cancer is cancer that occurs in the breast, and bladder cancer is cancer that starts in the bladder. When bladder cancer spreads to the liver and other areas, we think that bladder cancer is a primary tumor, and liver tumors are liver metastases.

▌How to stage metastatic cancer?

The stage of metastatic cancer varies with the type of cancer, but in most cases, the cancer that has metastasized to distant organs is stage IV; if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues, it is usually stage III.

▌Can metastatic cancer be cured?

 Whether cancer can be truly cured, we cannot easily draw conclusions, it depends on many factors. We cannot say whether all metastatic cancers, or a certain type of metastatic cancer can be cured. Of course, the tumor is easier to treat when it has not spread and metastasized, and it has been very difficult to treat metastatic cancer in the past.

But in recent years, we have made great progress in cancer treatment. Various new therapies and clinical trials have helped us find new ways to treat metastatic cancer. As a result, we can now treat metastatic cancer, allowing patients to live longer and have a higher quality of life.

For example, the vast majority of stage IV melanomas were considered incurable in the past, but with the application of new therapies such as immunotherapy, many patients have not seen signs of disease for many years after diagnosis.

▌How does cancer spread or metastasize?

Cancer cells can spread in several ways. They may spread directly to nearby organs and tissues, and they may also spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph node system.

▌Where does the cancer spread most often?

When cancer spreads to nearby organs or tissues, it is usually considered to be “local metastasis.” If the cancer spreads far away from its original site, it is considered “distant metastasis.”

For decades, researchers have been studying cancer and how it spreads. We have learned which cancers are more likely to have local metastasis and which are more likely to have distant metastases. For example, breast cancer is more prone to local lymph node metastasis. Cancers such as melanoma, lung cancer, thoracic cavity tumors, and kidney cancer are prone to brain metastases. In fact, it is estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 people are diagnosed with brain metastases each year, and 17,000 cases of primary brain tumors are diagnosed.

Common areas where cancer has spread:

  • Bladder cancer: bone, liver, lung;
  • Breast cancer: bone, brain, liver, lung;
  • Colorectal cancer: liver, lung;
  • Lung cancer: adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, the other lung;
  • Melanoma: bone, brain, liver, lung, skin;
  • Thyroid cancer: bone, liver, lung;

▌Are there any typical symptoms of metastatic cancer?

  • The symptoms of metastatic cancer mainly depend on where the cancer has spread and metastasized.
  • If the cancer spreads to the brain, the patient may feel dizzy, blurred vision, weakness or headache.
  • If the cancer spreads to the digestive system, the patient may experience changes in bowel habits.
  • If you have recently been diagnosed with local cancer that has not spread, you can consult the medical team about the risk of spreading and metastasis, and what symptoms you need to pay attention to. Remember to inform the medical team in time if any symptoms occur, so that metastatic cancer can be detected early. Early detection is the key to successful cancer treatment.

▌How is metastatic cancer diagnosed?

Usually, after the medical team is diagnosed with cancer, the first step is to determine whether the cancer has spread and where it has spread, that is, “stage diagnosis”. Sometimes doctors will use imaging for staged diagnosis, such as MRI, CT, or PET-CT. During the imaging examination, the area where the cancer has spread will “glow” or become more obvious.

Staging can also be performed in the following ways, such as blood tests and surgical biopsy to determine the spread of cancer. How much the cancer has spread to the body determines the stage of the cancer. The staging of each cancer type is different, and not all cancers require formal staging, but generally, the higher the stage, the more sites the cancer will spread.

▌How to treat metastatic cancer?

When cancer spreads, it usually gets a different and more aggressive treatment. Fortunately, we have made a lot of progress in the treatment of metastatic cancer. If the cancer has spread, the opportunity for surgery may have often been lost, and chemotherapy, radiotherapy (proton therapy) or immunotherapy are mainly used for treatment.

▌What advice do you have for newly diagnosed patients with metastatic cancer?

The treatment of metastatic cancer is tricky. Need to find a multidisciplinary medical team with rich experience in related cancer fields. They may be more familiar with cutting-edge clinical trials and new therapies, bringing new treatment options to patients, earning longer survival times, and improving quality of life at the same time.

Metastatic cancer: What does it mean if cancers spread and metastasize?

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