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Lung metastases

Lung metastases are cancerous tumors that start somewhere else in the body and spread to the lungs.

Causes

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:

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine you and ask about your medical history and symptoms. Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Chemotherapy is often used to treat metastatic cancer to the lung. Surgery to remove the tumors may be done when any of the following occurs:

  • 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.

Other treatments include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted systemic therapy
  • The placement of stents inside the airways
  • Laser therapy
  • Using local heat probes to destroy the area
  • Using very cold temperature to destroy the area

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.

Outlook (Prognosis)

A cure is unlikely in most cases of cancers that have spread to the lungs. But the outlook depends on the main cancer. In some cases, a person can live more than 5 years with metastatic cancer to the lungs.

Possible Complications

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have a history of cancer and you develop:

Prevention

Not all cancers can be prevented. However, many can be prevented by:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Not smoking

Alternative Names

Metastases to the lung; Metastatic cancer to the lung; Lung cancer - metastases; Lung mets

References

Arenberg DA, Reddy RM. Metastatic malignant tumors. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 79.

Hayman J, Naidoo J, Ettinger DS. Lung metastases. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 57.

Wald O, Izhar U, Sugarbaker DJ. Lung, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022:chap 58.

Review Date 4/29/2022

Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.