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Understanding Metastatic Cancer

Where Will Cancers Spread?

As already mentioned, the bone, liver, and lungs are the most common sites of cancer metastasis. However, certain cancers tend to spread to certain areas of the body. The following table shows where the main sites of metastasis occur (excluding the lymph nodes) for some of the common types of cancer.
Type of Cancer Main Sites of Metastasis
Bladder Bone, liver, lung
Breast Bone, brain, liver, lung
Colorectal Liver, lung, and the lining of the abdominal cavity and organs (peritoneum)
Kidney Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, lung
Lung Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, other lung
Melanoma Bone, brain, liver, lung, skin/muscle
Liver, lung, and the lining of the abdominal cavity and organs (peritoneum)
Pancreas Liver, lung, and the lining of the abdominal cavity and organs (peritoneum)
Prostate Adrenal gland, bone, liver, lung
Stomach Liver, lung, and the lining of the abdominal cavity and organs (peritoneum)
Thyroid Bone, liver, lung
Uterus Bone, liver, lung, vagina, and the lining of the abdominal cavity and organs (peritoneum)

Whether cancer cells will spread depends on a variety of factors, such as:
  • The cancer cells' individual properties
  • The properties of the noncancerous cells
  • The original location of the cancer.
Not all cancer cells have the ability to metastasize. And even if they are capable of spreading, in some cases, the noncancerous cells at the original location may be able to block the cancer cells from spreading. If cancer cells do spread, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will form a metastatic tumor. In fact, metastatic cancer cells can lie dormant (inactive and not growing) for many years before they grow again.
Although not all cancer cells will spread and form new tumors, you cannot have a metastatic tumor without having a primary cancer. There has to be a source where the cancer cells came from. If a metastatic tumor is found first, then the primary cancer should also be found. However, in some cases, the primary cancer cannot be found because it is either too small or has completely shrunk. Your healthcare provider will be able to identify cancer cells as being metastatic or primary based on how they look under a microscope.
In some cases, people who have been treated for a primary cancer have gone into remission (the cancer is no longer growing), only to be diagnosed with cancer a second time. While this may be a new primary cancer, in most cases, it is a metastatic cancer.
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