Metastatic Cancer

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body.

Metastatic cancer has the same name and same type of cancer cells as the original cancer.

The most common sites of cancer metastasis are, in alphabetical order, the bone, liver, and lung

What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body. A tumor formed by metastatic cancer cells is called a metastatic tumor or a metastasis. The process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body is also called metastasis.

Metastatic cancer has the same name and the same type of cancer cells as the original, or primary, cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung and forms a metastatic tumor is metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer.

Under a microscope, metastatic cancer cells generally look the same as cells of the original cancer. Moreover, metastatic cancer cells and cells of the original cancer usually have some molecular features in common, such as the expression of certain proteins or the presence of specific chromosome changes.

Although some types of metastatic cancer can be cured with current treatments, most cannot. Nevertheless, treatments are available for all patients with metastatic cancer. In general, the primary goal of these treatments is to control the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms caused by it. In some cases, metastatic cancer treatments may help prolong life. However, most people who die of cancer die of metastatic disease.

Can any type of cancer form a metastatic tumor?

Virtually all cancers, including cancers of the blood and the lymphatic system (leukemia, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma), can form metastatic tumors. Although rare, the metastasis of blood and lymphatic system cancers to the lung, heart, central nervous system, and other tissues has been reported.

Where does cancer spread?

The most common sites of cancer metastasis are, in alphabetical order, the bone, liver, and lung. Although most cancers have the ability to spread to many different parts of the body, they usually spread to one site more often than others. The following table shows the most common sites of metastasis, excluding the lymph nodes, for several types of cancer:

Cancer type Main sites of metastasis*
Bladder Bone, liver, lung
Breast Bone, brain, liver, lung
Colorectal Liver, lung, peritoneum
Kidney Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, lung
Lung Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, other lung
Melanoma Bone, brain, liver, lung, skin/muscle
Ovary Liver, lung, peritoneum
Pancreas Liver, lung, peritoneum
Prostate Adrenal gland, bone, liver, lung
Stomach Liver, lung, peritoneum
Thyroid Bone, liver, lung
Uterus Bone, liver, lung, peritoneum, vagina

 

By National Cancer Institute