In some cases of cancer, the cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. This is known as metastasis, or more commonly referred to as ‘stage 4 cancer’, which refers to the cancer spreading beyond its original site.
Cancer can metastasize to anywhere in the body, although this does depend on where the cancer originated from in the body.
Metastasis is the most dangerous aspect of cancer, with an estimated 90% of deaths from cancer coming from metastasized cancer. There are treatments for metastatic cancer, however, they aren’t as effective as radical local therapies such as radiotherapy or surgery.
Many cancer patients lack understanding of how cancer can spread and how their cancer can be contained. This process is often poorly understood and extremely complicated.
Understanding Cancer Metastasis
Cancer that metastasizes to a new part of the body is still referred to as the same cancer as the original site. To put this into perspective, what started as stomach cancer that metastasizes to the liver will still be known as stomach cancer, but will now be referred to as metastatic stomach cancer.
Metastasis cancer is still known as the cancer of its’ original site, therefore is treated as if it was the original site. For example, if colorectal cancer has metastasized, the spread cancer is still treated with the same treatment around the body, even if the cancer has spread to the lungs.
Metastasis can be caused by mutant proteins (called oncogenes) which uncontrollably multiply the cancer cells, which boosts their ability to spread around the body. Cancer doesn’t obey the normal rule of cellular growth and can sometimes travel to new locations in three core ways, including:
Growing directly into tissue
Cancer cells can grow directly into the tissue surrounding the original tumor.
Entering the bloodstream
From entering the bloodstream, cancer cells can get to distant locations around the body.
Using the lymphatic system
Cancer cells can use the lymphatic system to travel to other lymph nodes around the body, which can be some distance from the original site.
Common Sites of Cancer Metastasis
Besides blood cancers, all types of cancers can metastasize and spread to any part of the body. Each cancer tends to move in different ways, with some cancers having common sites of metastasis.
An easier way of understanding metastasis is that it can be compared to an obstacle course. If completing an obstacle course, you’ll be moving in a variety of ways and depending on the obstacle in front of you, you’ll be changing how you move.
Cancers originating in the breast can spread to cause cancer of the bone, lung, liver and brain, prostate cancer can spread to the bone, liver, lymph nodes and lung and lung cancer can spread to the bone, liver, adrenal gland and brain.
Both colorectal cancer and stomach cancer can metastasize to the liver, lungs and peritoneum. Finally, liver cancer can spread to the peritoneum, lungs and bone.
Helping yourself after a cancer diagnosis
Some doctors say that cancer can be effectively ‘cured’ if it can be controlled by drugs and other treatments over time. Modern treatments keep the cancer from spreading, therefore allowing patients to live a normal life.
After a cancer diagnosis, lifestyle and overall diet quality can be very helpful for supporting health and resilience. This includes the foods you eat, which is why you’ll want to look into putting together your own healthy eating plan.
While more evidence is needed to definitively say that what causes metastasis, there is enough evidence now to say that patients looking to improve their position, and those looking to reduce their cancer risk, would benefit from changing their diet and lifestyle.