Unlike other forms of lung cancer, metastatic lung cancer is the result of a cancer from another part of the body spreading to the lungs. When a malignancy develops in the body (most often in the breasts, colon, prostate, or bladder, though almost all cancers have the ability to spread) it can sometimes spread through the blood stream. When these malignancies settle into the pulmonary tissues, such as the alveoli (the final vein-like branches of the respiratory system) and the supporting tissues of the respiratory structures, the cancer has metastasized to the lungs.
Unfortunately, treating metastatic lung cancer presents significant challenges. Since the cancer has spread from another part of the body, treatment not only involves addressing the cancer in the lungs, but also the original cancer and any other areas of the body that may have also become affected. In some cases, if the primary tumor is successfully removed and if the spread of the tumor cells to the pulmonary regions is relatively localized, then the management of the cancer by surgical techniques may do the job. However, if the metastatic lung cancer is extensive, because so many areas of the body may be under the influence of the cancer, certain treatments (such as surgery, and in many cases, radiation therapy as well) may prove ineffective.
Which leaves most patients with chemotherapy as the primary treatment of choice. Chemotherapy often uses a combination of drugs (often referred to as "anti-cancer" drugs) to kill cancer cells, though a single drug may be used as well. While the aim of these drugs is to stop cancerous cells from multiplying, they also can damage healthy cells. This is what creates the side effects that are often associated with chemotherapy, such as the loss of hair, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue.
The good news, however, is that the healthy cells will generally repair themselves once the chemotherapy process is over. Chemotherapy can provide a cure (when the cancer disappears and does not return) or help to control the cancer (to keep it from spreading and perhaps kill cancerous cells that have already spread to other areas of the body, such as is the case in metastasized lung cancer) or relieve the symptoms of the cancer (to provide the patient with a better quality of life, even in the face of a poor prognosis). How it's used in any particular situation is dependent upon the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, the prognosis, and the plan as set out by the patient and his or her physician. In addition, there are complementary and alternative treatments.
These can include everything from proper nutrition to pain management, from spiritual approaches to natural herbs and supplements. Of course, such alternative plans will vary much the same as traditional treatments, depending on the location and size of the tumor, the age and general health of the patient, and other factors. Metastatic lung cancer is certainly more challenging to overcome than other forms of lung cancer because the fight against the cancerous cells is not confined to the lungs. And while a cure is unlikely in most cases, in rare instances (usually when the primary tumor has been removed and the spread of the cancer has been limited), the lung metastases can be removed surgically, with a prognosis of long-term survival. Please note that the information provided in this article is for information purposes only. It should not be used during a medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of lung cancer or metastatic lung cancer.
Such situations should always involve the expertise of a physician or health care provider.
David Silva is the webmaster for Lung Cancer Insights, a site dedicated to the dissemination of information about lung cancer, mesothelioma, non-small cell lung cancer, and their treatments.