What is metastatic lung cancer?

When lung cancer spreads to another part or parts of the body, it is called advanced lung cancer or metastatic lung cancer. The term metastatic describes the process that occurs when cancer spreads from where it began to other parts of the body.

Lung Cancer Lung Adenocarcinoma

Causes of metastatic lung cancer

The primary causes of lung cancer are smoking or being around other people who smoke. Cigarette smoke contains substances that cause cancer. When you smoke, these substances damage your lungs. Eventually, this damage can result in cancer.

Doctors don't know why nonsmokers also get lung cancer or why cancer advances in some patients.

Risk factors for metastatic lung cancer

The primary risk factors for getting advanced lung cancer are:

  • Current or previous diagnosis of lung cancer
  • Smoking
  • Being around people who are smoking
  • Unsafe amounts of radon gas in your home
  • Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel or other substances that can cause cancer
  • Having a close relative who has had lung cancer

Symptoms of metastatic lung cancer

Signs of lung cancer can include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain in the chest area
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling weak
  • Weight loss with no other cause

Cancer that spreads does not always have additional symptoms. If there are symptoms, they might depend on where in the body the cancer has spread.

Signs that cancer has advanced into the bone can include bone pain or broken bones.

Signs that cancer has advanced into the brain can include feeling dizzy or having seizures or headaches.

Signs that cancer has advanced into the liver can include swelling in the stomach area or skin that looks yellow.

Diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer

Cancer can spread to almost any part of the body. However, some cancers tend to spread in certain ways. Lung cancer tends to advance into the other lung or the adrenal gland, bone, brain or liver. The adrenal glands are located near the kidneys. These glands produce hormones that help other systems in the body function well.

Doctors can use a variety of tests to find advanced lung cancer. The types of tests the doctor uses depend in part on where the cancer might be the body. Examples of diagnostic tests include:

  • Blood test
  • X-ray, CT scan, MRI or PET scan
  • Biopsy

Treatments for metastatic lung cancer

Treatments for this type of cancer may include:

  • Chemotherapy or "chemo"
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

Some people who have advanced cancer choose to participate in trials of experimental treatment options.

Recovery from metastatic lung cancer

Doctors usually cannot cure advanced lung cancer. However, treatment can help to slow the cancer's spread, ease the symptoms, improve the patient's quality of life and help the patient live a longer life.

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