Sometimes, cancer patients who suffer lumbar muscle strain might think they just get low back pain and no additional attention should be paid to this symptom. But when symptom gets worse and they go to the hospital for a checkup, they are told that they get bone metastasis from lung cancer. They are very shocked: how could that be?
Actually, tumor metastasis is a key concern that affects the survival of cancer patients.
What is tumor metastasis?
Tumor is the biggest threat to human health. Getting tumor is not as tricky as tumor metastasis in which tumor cells break away from the original (primary) tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues of the body. The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. The original tumor is called primary tumor, and the newly formed tumor is metastatic tumor. Tumor metastasis is a complex biological process involving multiple genes, cytokines and so on. There are many factors leading to tumor metastasis. For example, the more malignant a tumor tissue is, the earlier the metastasis occurs. Poor physical conditions and low immune functions will also increase the chance of getting tumor metastasis.
Tumor metastasis means that the tumor lesion has entered into the advanced stage, which is also one of the important reasons for the failure of the tumor cure.
Why tumor metastasis occur?
Tumor metastasis usually occurs in specific organs. The mechanism of tumor metastasis is still unclear and it is related to the characteristics of the tumor cells themselves and the defense function of the body.
Seed and Soil Theory is a famous hypothesis which believes that like seeds, tumor cells prefer to transfer to microenvironments that are more suitable for rooting and growth. For example, metastatic lung cancer may spread to the bones, brain, or liver, and Breast cancer often spread to lung, bone and brain.
Each gram of tumor tissues can release 3 to 4 million tumor cells per day which are channeled by blood or lymph into the whole body. Once getting chance, these tumor cells will root in the certain organ of the body and proliferate quickly to destroy the function of the organ, thus leading to the death of a patient.
Routes of tumor metastasis
Major routes for tumor metastasis include:
Lymphatic vessels are part of the lymphatics structured like blood vessels. They are responsible for carrying lymph containing proteins, fats and lymphocytes. Tumor cells can metastasize to other parts of the body, especially stomach, pancreas, lung, breast, colon and nasopharynx. Lymphoma is metastasized through lymphatic vessels and presents clinically as progressive enlargement.
Tumor cells enter blood vessels and move to other parts along blood flood, which is a major route for tumor metastasis.
Implantation metastasis is a process in which cancer cells detached from the primary site spread and plant on the surface of other organs. For example, advanced gastric cancer can spread to peritoneum, ovary and pelvic cavity.
Can tumor metastasis be prevented?
Although there are no targeted drugs for preventing tumor metastasis, early detection and treatment can be helpful to prevent tumor metastasis. Some effective steps include:
Regular examination and cancer screening
Regular examinations and cancer screening can not only detect metastatic tumors early but also help to detect early tumors. Experts from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommended an annual screening for lung cancer with LDCT in persons at high risk for lung cancer.
Timely care and treatment
People with discomfort should immediately see the doctor. A delayed treatment will make diseases worse and tricky.
Patients after surgery should have a regular follow up according to the doctor’s advice.
Develop a healthy lifestyle
Cancer survivors are recommended to develop a healthy lifestyle. This includes weight control, daily physical exercise and a regular healthy diet. Many studies have indicated an association between healthy lifestyles behaviors and lower cancer metastasis and recurrence.
How to cope with tumor metastasis?
When tumor metastasizes, cancer patients should actively cooperate with the doctor to receive an individualized treatment. The treatment methods include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and palliative treatment etc. The advanced treatment including the use of targeted drugs and the emergence of translational therapy makes it possible to extend patients’ survival, and many patients with metastases can still survive with tumors for a long time.
Palliative treatment is a therapy designed to improve the quality of life and prolong survival of patients with mid and advanced cancer. It can be used to receive cancer patients’ pain and improve their psychological, social and spiritual wellness. it can be used at any stage of cancer. For patients who are not suitable to receive chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, palliative care can be used to alleviate the pain and improve the quality of life.