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Lung metastases

Metastases to the lung; Metastatic cancer to the lung

 

Lung metastases are cancerous tumors that start somewhere else in the body and spread to the lungs.

Causes

 

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.

Nearly any cancer can spread to the lungs. Common cancers include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Sarcoma
  • Wilms tumor

 

Symptoms

 

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Bloody sputum
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

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

 

Exams and Tests

 

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

  • Bronchoscopy to view the airways 
  • Chest CT scan
  • Chest x-ray
  • Cytologic studies of pleural fluid or sputum
  • Lung needle biopsy
  • Surgery to take a sample of tissue from the lungs (surgical lung biopsy)

 

Treatment

 

Chemotherapy is usually used to treat metastatic cancer to the lung. Surgery to remove the tumors may be done when any of the following occurs:

  • 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.

Less common treatments include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • The placement of stents inside the airways
  • Laser therapy

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.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

A cure is unlikely in most cases of cancers that have spread to the lungs. But the outlook depends on the underlying cancer. Some cancers, such as lymphoma, are very treatable and even curable. In general, it is rare for someone to live more than 5 years with metastatic cancer to the lungs.

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

  • Palliative care
  • Hospice care
  • Advance care directives
  • Health care agents

 

Possible 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 or pain when taking a deep breath
  • Further spread of the cancer
  • Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

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 healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Not smoking

 

 

References

Arenberg D, Pickens A. Metastatic malignant tumors. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 49.

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    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Lung metastases

           
             

            Review Date: 5/29/2014

            Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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