Is Metastatic Cancer Curable?

Reviewed on 12/30/2020

What Is Metastatic Cancer?

Once a cancerous (malignant) tumor has metastasized (spread throughout the body from the original site), it is much more difficult to treat. Most of the time metastatic cancer cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to slow growth, reduce symptoms, and prolong the patient's life with as much quality as possible.
Once a cancerous (malignant) tumor has metastasized (spread throughout the body from the original site), it is much more difficult to treat. Most of the time metastatic cancer cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to slow growth, reduce symptoms, and prolong the patient’s life with as much quality as possible.

Cancer is called metastatic when it spreads from where it originates to a different part of the body. For many types of cancer, this is considered stage 4 cancer

Any type of cancer can metastasize (spread) depending on: 

  • The type of cancer: some cancers are more likely to spread than others
  • How fast the cancer is growing
  • Other factors about the behavior of the cancer 

Metastasis is not necessarily the same as “locally advanced cancer,” which is cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes, but it has not spread throughout the body.

Where in the Body Can Cancer Metastasize (Spread)?

Cancer can metastasize to almost any part of the body. Certain types of cancer have a tendency to spread to certain parts of the body. For example:

  • Breast cancer tends to spread to the bones, liver, lungs, chest wall, and brain
  • Bladder and thyroid cancers tend to spread to the bones, liver, and lungs
  • Lung cancer tends to spread to the brain, bones, liver, adrenal glands, and the other lung
  • Colon, rectal, stomach, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers tend to spread to the liver, lungs, and peritoneum
  • Kidney cancer tends to spread to the adrenal glands, bones, brain, liver, and lungs
  • Prostate cancer tends to spread to the adrenal glands, bones, liver, and lungs
  • Uterine cancer tends to spread to the bones, liver, lungs, peritoneum, and vagina
  • Melanoma (skin cancer) cancer tends to spread to the bones, brain, liver, lungs, skin, muscles

Cancer that spreads to another area of the body keeps same name as the original cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the liver is called metastatic breast cancer and not liver cancer because the cancer started in the breast and the patient is treated for breast cancer.

What Are Symptoms of Metastatic Cancer?

Metastatic cancer may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, it usually depends on the size and location of the metastatic tumors and may include:

  • Pain and fractures, when cancer has spread to the bone
  • Headache, seizures, or dizziness, when cancer has spread to the brain
  • Shortness of breath, when cancer has spread to the lung
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice) or swelling in the belly, when cancer has spread to the liver

General signs and symptoms of metastatic cancer may include:

How Is Metastatic Cancer Diagnosed?

Most of the time, people who have metastatic cancer have had non-metastatic cancer and metastases are discovered on follow-up. In some cases, when cancer is first discovered, it has already metastasized. 

The tests used to diagnose metastatic cancer depend on the type of cancer and may include: 

How Is Metastatic Cancer Treated?

Most of the time metastatic cancer cannot be cured. The goal of treatment for metastatic cancers is to slow growth, reduce symptoms, and prolong the patient’s life as long as possible with as much quality as possible. 

The treatment for metastatic cancer depends on:

  • The original cancer and where it started
  • How much the cancer has metastasized and where it is located
  • How quickly the cancer is spreading 
  • The patient’s age and health

Treatment for metastases may be different from treatment for the original tumor. Treatments for metastatic cancers include one or more of the following: 

The goals of treatment may change during a patient’s care, depending on how a person reacts to the treatment, and how the cancer responds to the treatment. Palliative care to help manage side effects of the cancer and the treatment may be employed. Palliative care is aimed at reducing side effects of treatment and improving quality of life.

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Reviewed on 12/30/2020
References
https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/coping-with-metastatic-cancer

https://www.cancer.gov/types/metastatic-cancer

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/advanced-cancer/what-is.html