Metastasis

Specialty of Clinical oncology

What is metastatis?

Metastasis is a process wherein cancer spreads from one part of the body to the other, affecting one or more organs. This may also be known as ‘secondary’ cancer, and is a late stage, meaning metastatic cancer has a lower possibility of being cured.

How does metastatis happen?

Cancer can spread from the primary cancer site to other areas of the body through the lymphatic system or through the bloodstream. Cancer cells spread from one organ to another in this way, and tumours then form in other parts of the body. This does not create a new cancer, but rather is a metastised form of the orginal cancer, e.g breast cancer which spreads to the lung does not become lung cancer, but is metastatic breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer does not always show symptoms. If they are present, the symptoms of metastatic cancer depend on where the cancer has spread to and how large the tumours are. Symptoms may include bone fractures and pain (when the cancer has spread to the bone), headaches, seizures, and dizziness (when the cancer has spread to the brain), being short of breath (spread to the lungs), and jaundice or swelling in the abdomen (spread to the liver).

What is the treatment for metastasis?

Once cancer has started spreading, it is difficult to then control it and treat it. Some metastatic cancers can be treated, but most cannot. The mainstay of treatment in cases where the cancer cannot be cured is to slow the growth of the cancer or to reduce or relieve the symptoms caused by it.

Treatment for metastatic cancer depends on the primary cancer form and where the cancer has spread.

Is metastasis preventable?

The risk of secondary cancer developing depends on many factors, such as the type of cancer and the age the patient develops the cancer. While secondary cancer can develop, it is important to note that the risk is relatively small. It is not yet possible to entirely prevent metastasis.  

Which specialist treats metastatic cancer?

Cancer is often dealt with by various specialists as different specialties are involved in different areas of the treatment – for example, if surgery is necessary, a surgeon will be involved in treatment. However, the doctor who assesses, diagnoses and treats cancer is an oncologist.

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