Metastatic Cancer

By Victor Montour

What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the original place the cancer started to another place in the body. Any tumor formed by metastatic cancer cells is called a metastatic tumor or a metastasis. 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 called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. Most people who sure come to cancer sure come to metastatic cancer.

Can any type of cancer form a metastatic tumor?

Virtually all cancers, including cancers of the blood and the lymphatic symptom can form metastatic tumors. Although rare, the metastasis of blood and lymphatic cancers to the lung, heart, central nervous system, and other tissues has been reported.

Where does cancer spread?

The most common sites for metastasis are listed in the table below. Although most cancers have the ability to spread to many different parts of the body, they usually spread to one site more often than others. Please note the table below excludes the lymph nodes for several types of cancers.

Cancer type Main sites of metastasis
Bladder Bone, liver, lung
Breast Bone, brain, liver, lung
Colorectal Liver, lung, peritoneum
Kidney Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, lung
Lung Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, other lung
Melanoma Bone, brain, liver, lung, skin/muscle
Ovary Liver, lung, peritoneum
Pancreas Liver, lung, peritoneum
Prostate Adrenal gland, bone, liver, lung
Stomach Liver, lung, peritoneum
Thyroid Bone, liver, lung
Uterus Bone, liver, lung, peritoneum, vagina

How does cancer spread?

Cancer cell metastasis usually involves the following steps:

  • Local invasion: Cancer cells invade nearby normal tissue.
  • Intravasation: Cancer cells invade and move through the walls of nearby lymph vessels or blood vessels.
  • Circulation: Cancer cells move through the lymphatic system and the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
  • Arrest and Extravasation: Cancer cells arrest, or stop moving in small blood vessels called capillaries at a distant location. They then invade the walls of the capillaries and migrate into the surrounding tissue
  • Proliferation: Cancer cells multiply at the distant location to form small tumors known as micrometastases.
  • Angiogenesis: Micrometastases stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to obtain a blood supply. A blood supply is needed to obtain the oxygen and nutrients necessary for continued tumor growth.

The ability of a cancer cell to metastasize successfully depends on its individual properties. Not all of the steps above are needed for metastasis to occur.

Symptoms of metastatic cancer

Some people with metastatic tumors do not have symptoms. Their metastases are found by x-rays or other testing. When symptoms occur, the type and frequency of the symptoms will depend on the size and the location of the metastasis.

Can you have a metastatic tumor without having a primary cancer?

No, a metastatic tumor is always caused by a cancer cell from a primary cancer located in another part of the body. However, in some patients a metastatic tumor is diagnosed but the primary tumor cannot be fund, despite extensive test, because it either is to small to see or has completely regressed. The pathologist knows that the diagnosed tumor is metastasis because the cells do not look like those of the organ or tissue the tumor is found in.

Treatment for metastatic cancer:

Your oncologist will work closely with you on a treatment plan and provide you options with the most successful treatment for the primary or metastatic cancer you or your loved one may have. We recommend that you talk with your oncologist or primary care doctor about your treatment goals and options. With this conversation we all so recommend you talk to your family and doctor about options if treatment fails or is not an option due to a decline in health.  It is never too late to have the conversation about your end of life wishes.

If you would like more information about Front Range Hospice please call 303-957-3101 or 970-776-8080 or email us at

Watch out for our next blog: What to ask when looking for a hospice.


About Front Range Hospice- Legendary Care

Front Range Hospice is a center for excellence in providing end-of-life care and we continue to strive to keep our company achieving distinction. Visit us at
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