Cancer spreads when it becomes metastatic, or when cancer cells break away from the primary tumour to spread to other areas of the body.
When cancer spreads to other parts or organs of the body, it is still considered to be original cancer. For example, if the lung cancer spreads to the brain, it is still considered to be metastatic lung cancer and never brain cancer.
Cancers are of different types and depend on a lot of factors and according to the patient’s health conditions. Commonly metastatic cancers affect the liver, lungs, bones and the brain.
Presently serious research is ongoing to predict the path of metastatic cancer using innovative predictive modelling to anticipate the tumour’s path.
Symptoms of Metastatic Cancer
Usually, after the diagnosis of cancer, it is monitored closely to detect signs of metastasis or the spread of cancer cells. Cancer symptoms manifest for certain types that are prone to spread to other parts of the body.
In the lungs, the metastasis causes a persistent cough or shortness of breath. In the brain, there will be severe headaches or seizures; in the liver, there is usually a loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss. When metastasis affects the bones, then it causes unusual fractures and brittleness of the bone.
How is metastasis diagnosed?
Accurate diagnosis is required since many other conditions cause similar symptoms. Today, there are newer methods for detecting metastasis including ‘liquid biopsy’ blood testing. This is a non-invasive analysis that helps in identifying cancer cells in the bloodstream leading to the knowledge of the tumour progression.
What treatments are available?
It is always advisable to detect cancer before it affects the body. Once cancer has spread, it is complicated to control, but still, several treatments can help control the spread or metastasis of cancer. These treatments include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy and ultimately surgery, treatment can consist of a combination of all these. Advanced methods like lymphatic mapping help doctors find out if cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and direct their treatment accordingly.
Due to the advanced research, today, some of the metastatic cancers can be effectively managed on a long term basis. Research is still advanced to heighten the standards of care for all individuals suffering from metastatic cancers.