Metastasis is the process of the spreading of cancer cells from the place where the cancer originated to other parts of the body. Initially, cancer cells grow and multiply in the organ or tissue where they originate.
However, as this process advances, they have the ability to leave the organ of origin and travel through the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Using these mechanisms, the cancer cells can reach any part of the body, where they settle and divide, causing cancer.
This group of cancer cells located in other tissues or organs than where they started is called metastasis. One of the first sites where metastasis occurs is in the lymph nodes close to the tumor of origin.
Does metastasis have a cure?
The appearance of the metastatic tumor worsens the prognosis of the cancer disease. First, a distinction should be made between whether there is metastasis only in the lymph nodes close to the original tumor or whether it is metastasis in other organs or tissues further away from the primary tumor.
If metastasis is only present in the lymph nodes, a cure may be possible after treatment with surgery or chemotherapy, combined with radical radiotherapy.
If there are metastases in organs or tissues other than where the cancer originated, the possibility of a cure is rare. However, in some types of cancer, when there is only one organ affected by metastasis, and provided a number of conditions are met to make the patient eligible for radical treatment (mainly surgery), long-term survivorship and, in some exceptional cases, cure, may be possible.
Life expectancy with metastasis
Life expectancy varies greatly depending on the original tumor type and the affected organ. In recent years, thanks to advances in oncology, with the advent of new treatments, targeted therapies and immunotherapy, survival has considerably lengthened, as has the quality of life of patients with metastasis.
What are the symptoms of metastasis?
The symptoms of metastasis depend on the location of the metastasis and the organs involved. For example, bone metastases can cause pain. In the case of lung involvement, fatigue and breathlessness are common symptoms, etc.
Treatment of metastatic disease
The main treatment for metastasis is systemic cancer treatment, with chemotherapy, targeted therapies or immunotherapy, that reach all parts of the body to fight the disease. In the event of symptoms or complications of these treatments, palliative treatments with radiotherapy or surgery can be used with the aim of mitigating symptoms or complications.
I have metastatic disease. What stage is my cancer?
Usually when we talk about metastasis, we mean the presence of cancer cells in a part of the body other than where the tumor started. In this case, we would say that the cancer is in an advanced stage or phase (stage IV).