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; Lung cancer - metastases
Metastatic tumors in the lungs are cancers that developed at other places in the body (or other parts of the lungs). They then 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
- Ovarian cancer
- Thyroid cancer
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 health care provider 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 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 person must be strong enough to go through the surgery and recovery.
Less common treatments include:
Experimental treatments may be recommended, such as:
- Using local heat probes to destroy the area.
- Placing 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 main cancer. Some cancers, such as lymphoma, are very treatable, and even curable. In rare cases, a person can 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
Complications of metastatic tumors in the lungs may include:
- 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 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 DA, Pickens A. Metastatic malignant tumors. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 55.
Putnam JB. Lung, chest wall, and mediastinum. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 57.
Ripley RT, Rusch VW. Lung metastases. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 52.
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.