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Metastatic cancer to the lung

Definition

Metastatic cancer to the lung is cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs.

See also: Lung cancer

Alternative Names

Lung metastases

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Metastatic tumors in the lungs are cancers that developed at other places in the body (or other parts of the lungs) and spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to the lungs. It is different than lung cancer that starts in the lungs.

Common tumors that spread to the lungs include:

However, almost any cancer has the ability to spread to the lungs.

Symptoms

Note: In most cases, there are no lung-related symptoms when the tumors are found.

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Chemotherapy is usually used to treat metastatic cancer to the lung. Surgery isn't always done, because usually the cancer is in other parts of the body not seen by imaging tests. Surgery to remove the tumors seen on an x-ray is not likely to be helpful. However, surgery may be an option when:

  • The first (primary) tumor has been removed
  • The cancer has spread to only limited areas of the lung
  • The lung tumors can be completely removed with surgery

However, the main tumor must be curable, and the patient must be strong enough to go through the surgery and recovery.

Other, less common treatments include:

There are other experimental treatments. One of these treatments uses local heat probes to destroy the area. Another places chemotherapy medicines directly into the artery that supplies blood to the part of the lung containing the tumor.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems. For this condition, see cancer support group.

Expectations (prognosis)

A cure is unlikely in most cases. It is rare for someone to live more than 5 years with metastatic cancer to the lungs. However, the outlook depends on the specific type of primary cancer.

You and your family may want to start thinking about end-of-life planning, such as:

Complications

  • Fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion), which can cause shortness of breath
  • Fluid between the lung and chest wall (pleural effusion), which can cause shortness of breath
  • Further spread of the cancer
  • Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have a history of cancer and you develop:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

Prevention

Not all cancers can be prevented. However, many can be prevented by:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Not smoking

References

Rusch VW. Lung metastases. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008:chap 58.

Ettinger DS. Lung cancer and other pulmonary neoplasms. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 197.


Review Date: 6/5/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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