Lung metastasis isn't the same as lung cancer. Know the difference

December 9, 2014 | by Sayeh Hirmand

lungsSometimes cancer found in the lungs is not lung cancer at all. It can be another type of cancer that originated elsewhere in the body and spread, or metastasized, to the lungs through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. These tumors are called lung metastases, or metastatic cancer to the lungs, and are not the same as lung cancer or even metastatic lung cancer.

Metastatic lung cancer originates in the lungs, but then spreads. It happens when cancer cells break away from the lungs and travel to other parts of the body, such as the brain or breasts. (Even though a cancerous growth may have formed in a different location, it is still named after the part of the body where it started.)

Lung metastases are different, and treatment of them requires a thorough understanding of the various types of lung tumors. Unfortunately, almost any cancer can metastasize to the lungs and initiate a lung metastasis. The most common cancers include bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, neuroblastoma, Wilm's tumor and sarcoma. There's no way around it – a lung metastasis is a serious, life-threatening condition that is difficult to treat successfully, although some patients may gain years through surgical removal of the tumor.

In the best case scenario, patients recognize the symptoms and get treatment as early as possible.

Know your body

Metastatic cancer to the lung, or lung metastasis, does not always produce signs and symptoms. Further, if the signs do develop, they're usually similar to those found in other serious lung or chest ailments. They can include:

  • a cough that doesn't clear up
  • coughing up bloodstained phlegm (sputum)
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • persistent chest or rib cage pain
  • unintended weight loss

If you have been previously diagnosed with cancer – such as breast cancer, bladder cancer or prostate cancer – and display some of these symptoms, see your doctor. He or she may recommend a chest X-ray or CT scan of the lungs.


Next steps

A serious disease requires highly skilled, highly specialized experts, like those at City of Hope. Our cancer experts tailor their treatment to the disease, its origin and, of course, to the patient. Those treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, drug therapy or a combination of these treatments. Further, City of Hope clinicians and researchers are also developing new, more effective treatments with fewer side effects.


Learn more about lung cancer treatment and research at City of Hope. For more information on lung cancer screening, call 626-218-9410 or email [email protected] to speak with someone from the Lung Cancer Screening Program.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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