The Ericksons

Metastasis in Cancer: #AtoZCallenge

Today’s blog is about metastasis in cancer.

We learned in C is for Cancer Cells that one of the reasons that cancer is such a deadly disease is its ability to metastasize, or spread from one part of the body to another. Depending on what kind of cancer the patient has, this, most serious form of cancer is known as “metastatic,” or “stage IV.”

By Jane Hurd (Illustrator) – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2446 (image) (next). Public Domain,

How Cancer Metastasizes

The place where cancer first develops is called the primary tumor site.

From there, cancer spreads locally, invading nearby healthy tissue.

If too much time passes between the emergence of the primary tumor and treatment or treatment is unsuccessful, cancer cells will break away from the primary tumor site.

They then move through the walls of nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels.

Cancer cells proceed to travel through the patient’s bloodstream or lymphatic system.

They can get lodged in small blood vessels in distant locations, lymph nodes, or other organs. Like when they initially began growing, the cells invade the blood vessel walls and surrounding tissue. New blood vessels to form, providing an abundant blood supply to nourish the tumor as it grows.

After that, they can continue to spread to more distant parts of the body. Most of these cancer cells die along the way, but some continue the invasion and form more new tumors in different parts of the body.

The Same Cancer

Common sites for metastasis
By Mikael Häggström – All imaged used are in the Public Domain, CC0, Link

Even though they’re in a new location, these metastatic tumors are the same type of cancer as the primary

tumor. Doctors can see what kind of cancer the cells are through a microscope when they do a biopsy.

This is important because the treatment options that are most likely to be successful, are dependent on the type of cancer rather than the location of the cancer.

My husband, Dan, has stage IV, metastatic lung cancer. The primary tumor in his lung was very small. Yet, in a short amount of time, it spread to his spine and his lymph nodes. Eventually, it spread to his brain. This is called a brain “met.” The cancer cells in his brain were lung cancer cells, not brain cancer cells.

Sometimes, a patient gets cancer again, months or years after they were treated cancer. Usually, this cancer is the same type of cancer the patient had before. Occasionally, the cancer is a different kind of cancer. This is known as a second primary cancer. Thankfully, second primary cancers are rare, but they do happen.

Where does a metastasis travel?

Most forms of cancer can spread nearly anywhere in the body, but some cancers are more likely to spread to certain locations than others. The following is a table of the most common sites of metastasis (not including the lymph nodes) of various cancers. (1)

Common Sites of Metastasis

Cancer TypeMain Sites of Metastasis
BladderBone, liver, lung
BreastBone, brain, liver, lung
ColonLiver, lung, peritoneum
KidneyAdrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, lung
LungAdrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, other lung
MelanomaBone, brain, liver, lung, skin, muscle
OvaryLiver, lung, peritoneum
PancreasLiver, lung, peritoneum
ProstateAdrenal gland, bone, liver, lung
RectalLiver, lung, peritoneum
StomachLiver, lung, peritoneum
ThyroidBone, liver, lung
UterusBone, liver, lung, peritoneum, vagina


What are the symptoms of a metastasis?

Even Metastatic Cancer can be Asymptomatic. Your doctor will be keeping a close eye on you, if you have already been diagnosed with cancer. They will see you in clinic on a regular basis, and order scans at regular intervals.

There are some symptoms to be aware of. Headaches, lack of balance and seizures, are a symptom of a brain met. Shortness of breath is a symptom of metastasis to the lung. Bone metastasis is suspected when there is bone pain. Sometimes they aren’t discovered until there is a fracture. If cancer has metastasized to the liver, the patient’s skin will often become jaundice (yellow) and there may be abdominal swelling.

A Word About Brain Mets…

One of the reasons brain metastasis are common, even when treatment is working for cancer in the rest of the body, is the blood-brain barrier. A semi-permeable membrane that selectively allows nutrients in while protecting the brain from toxins. As far as your brain is concerned, cancer treatments are toxic. Because of that tumors often retreat to the safety of the brain.

Thankfully, doctors have gotten very good at zapping those nasty mets with precision radiation. By keeping a close eye on your cancer and following your treatment plan, you have the best chance of being able to get a metastasis under control.


  1. National Cancer institute, Metastatic Cancer: Where Cancer Spreads; Common Sites of Metastasis. February 6, 2017.


I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on



Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

6 comments on “Metastasis in Cancer: #AtoZCallenge

I didn’t know much about cancer. It was just a scary unknown. I appreciate you breaking it down into understandable chunks. Still scary – but there is power in knowledge.

This is a good explanation of cancer with a lot of helpful information. I’m writing articles for my local newspaper about cancer survivors as the publicity person for Relay for Life and as a freelancer for the newspaper. I hope that your husband is able to become cancer free. Best wishes to you and to your family.

Thank you, Alice. Best wishes on your articles. You are doing an amazing service for the cancer community. Let me know if I can ever be of assistance.

This is one of the many awful parts of cancer: You think you’ve beat it and it metastasizes somewhere else. As it did in my mother. Very difficult to deal with.

Visiting from A to Z. My best friend battled lung cancer, almost 30 years after she survived stage IV ovarian cancer. She did many fundraisers for ovarian cancer and faced her cancers with grace (she was a moderator for the Tarceva Dudes and Dudettes support group). I wish the best for you and your family and I salute what you are doing.

Thank you, Alice, for all you are doing to support the cancer community with your writing. Let me know if there is any way I can help.

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