What is Metastatic Cancer?
Metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread from the part of the body where it started to other parts of the body. When this happens, physicians say the cancer has metastasized. Your physician may also call it recurrent cancer, advanced cancer, or stage IV (4) cancer. 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.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer cells spread through the body in a series of steps. These steps include:
- Growing into, or invading, nearby normal tissue
- Moving through the walls of nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels
- Traveling through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to other parts of the body
- Stopping in small blood vessels at a distant location, invading the blood vessel walls, and moving into the surrounding tissue
- Growing in this tissue until a tiny tumor forms
- Causing new blood vessels to grow, which creates a blood supply that allows the metastatic tumor to continue growing
Most of the time, spreading cancer cells die at some point in this process. But, as long as conditions are favorable for the cancer cells at every step, some of them can form new tumors in other parts of the body. Metastatic cancer cells can also remain inactive at a distant site for many years before they begin to grow again, if at all.
The type of cancer and where the cancer starts is linked to how likely and where it will spread. Because of how the body’s bloodstream and lymph systems work, some of the most common sites where cancer can spread include the lungs, liver, bone, and brain.
However, cancer can spread to almost every part of the body, though some types of cancer tend to spread to certain parts of the body. For example:
- breast cancer tends to spread to the bones, liver, lungs, chest wall, and brain,
- lung cancer tends to spread to the brain, bones, liver, and adrenal glands,
- prostate cancer tends to spread to the bones,
- and colon and rectal cancers tend to spread to the liver and lungs.
Metastatic cancer can’t be cured but there are treatments for most types of metastatic cancer to help slow disease progression, manage side effects, and improve quality of life. The goal of treating metastatic cancer is to control it by stopping or slowing its growth. Some people can live for years with metastatic cancer that is well controlled. Other treatments may improve the quality of life by relieving symptoms. This type of care is called palliative care and it can be given at any point during cancer treatment.
When treating metastatic cancer, treatment depends on:
- the original cancer and where it started,
- how much the cancer has spread and where it is located,
- previous treatments,
- your age and health,
- and your personal treatment choices.
The main types of treatment for metastatic cancer include:
- Treatment that affects your entire body. Physicians call this systemic therapy and it includes chemotherapy and other medications, such as targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.
- Treatment for the area with cancer. Physicians call this local therapy and it includes surgery, radiation therapy, and some other treatments.
At Austin CyberKnife, metastatic tumors are treated with the CyberKnife Radiosurgery System. The CyberKnife System painlessly delivers precise, high-dose beams of radiation to metastatic tumors with extreme accuracy, without requiring incisions, hospitalization, or a long recovery time. CyberKnife allows physicians to zero in on the target tumor and irradiate it without harming the healthy surrounding tissue. As a result, the CyberKnife treatment is more comfortable for patients, radiation is delivered more accurately, and treatments can be completed in one to five sessions.
For patients previously treated with surgery or radiation or currently in treatment for a cancer recurrence, CyberKnife can be a powerful treatment option for a wide range of cancer patients and offers many particular treatment advantages. Compared with re-irradiation using conventional radiotherapy techniques, advanced radiation techniques, like CyberKnife, create a far more precise dose distribution, effectively limiting the normal tissue exposure to excessive radiation. This creates a greater possibility for durable local control, long-term disease-free survival, and provides some previously irradiated patients a safe radiation treatment option. Additionally, since CyberKnife treatment may be completed in 1-5 visits, for patients undergoing multi-modality treatments that combine radiation therapy with systematic treatment, unlike conventional radiation therapy, CyberKnife treatment can typically be done without any interruption to the patient’s chemotherapy cycle or immunotherapy treatments.
- Outpatient procedure, no anesthesia or hospitalization required
- Noninvasive, no incisions needed
- Typically pain-free treatment
- Reaches tumors from virtually unlimited directions with robotic mobility
- Targets individual tumors with pinpoint accuracy
- Enables clinicians to maximize and conform the dose to the tumor target
- Minimal radiation exposure to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor
- Little to no recovery time and almost immediate return to your normal daily activities
- Minimal side effects due to pinpoint precision of high-dose radiation delivery