Lung metastases are cancerous tumors that start somewhere else in the body and spread to the lungs.
Metastases to the lung; Metastatic cancer to the lung
Metastatic tumors in the lungs are cancers that developed at other places in the body (or other parts of the lungs) and spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to the lungs. It is different than lung cancer that starts in the lungs.
Nearly any cancer can spread to the lungs. Common cancers include:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Wilms tumor
Symptoms may include any of the following:
In most cases, there are no lung-related symptoms when the tumors are found.
Exams and Tests
The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask about your medical history and symptoms. Tests that may be done include:
- Bronchoscopy to view the airways
- Chest CT scan
- Chest x-ray
- Cytologic studies of pleural fluid or sputum
- Lung needle biopsy
- Surgery to take a sample of tissue from the lungs (surgical lung biopsy)
Chemotherapy is usually used to treat metastatic cancer to the lung. Surgery to remove the tumors may be done when any of the following occurs:
- The first (primary) tumor has been removed
- The cancer has spread to only limited areas of the lung
- The lung tumors can be completely removed with surgery
However, the main tumor must be curable, and the patient must be strong enough to go through the surgery and recovery.
Less common treatments include:
- Radiation therapy
- The placement of stents inside the airways
- Laser therapy
There are other experimental treatments. One of these treatments uses local heat probes to destroy the area. Another places chemotherapy medicines directly into the artery that supplies blood to the part of the lung containing the tumor.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
A cure is unlikely in most cases of cancers that have spread to the lungs. But the outlook depends on the underlying cancer. Some cancers, such as lymphoma, are very treatable and even curable. In general, it is rare for someone to live more than 5 years with metastatic cancer to the lungs.
You and your family may want to start thinking about end-of-life planning, such as:
- Palliative care
- Hospice care
- Advance care directives
- Health care agents
- Fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion), which can cause shortness of breath
- Fluid between the lung and chest wall (pleural effusion), which can cause shortness of breath or pain when taking a deep breath
- Further spread of the cancer
- Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have a history of cancer and you develop:
- Coughing up blood
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
Not all cancers can be prevented. However, many can be prevented by:
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Not smoking
Arenberg D, Pickens A. Metastatic malignant tumors. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 49.
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.