Advanced Cancer: Essential Facts You Should Know [Video]

  • Advanced cancer is cancer that cannot be cured.
  • Cancer that has grown to other body parts is called metastatic cancer.
  • Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor and travel through the bloodstream, reaching other areas where they may settle and grow.

What is advanced cancer?

Advanced cancer refers to cancers that cannot be cured totally even with treatment. But while advanced cancer can’t be cured, treatment can help shrink the tumor, slow its growth, ease symptoms, or lengthen your life.

Some people may already have advanced cancer when first diagnosed, while some cancer may take years to develop into an advanced stage after initial diagnosis.

Two types of advanced cancer

Locally advanced cancer means it has grown beyond the body part where it started but has not spread to other body parts yet. Some cancers may be considered advanced because of their size or proximity to important organs or blood vessels, making them potentially fatal even if they haven’t spread to other body parts. Some locally advanced cancers, like some cases of prostate cancers, may still be cured.

Metastatic cancers have spread to other body parts. However, not all metastatic cancers are advanced, like testicular cancer, which can still be cured even if it has spread.

Advanced cancer causes symptoms as it grows, but these symptoms can be managed with treatment, even when the cancer can no longer be cured.

What is metastatic cancer?

Cancer cells can break off from the original tumor and move to other body parts through the bloodstream or lymph vessels. Once cancer cells are already in the blood, they can go to any body part where they may die or settle and start to grow when they avoid the attacks from the body’s immune system.

Even if cancer spreads to a new body part, it’s still referred to as cancer of the body part where it started. For example, breast cancer that has affected the lungs is still called “metastatic breast cancer to the lungs” and not lung cancer. The treatment depends on where cancer started. In the example given above, the treatment will be one that has been proven to help against breast cancer.

In some cases, cancers have already started to grow when the cancer is first diagnosed. Sometimes, the new growth is found first before the original tumor. In these cases, figuring out where cancer originated may be hard.

Why do cancer cells spread to other parts of the body?

The origin point of cancer will also give you an idea of where it will spread. Most cancer cells that break away from the primary tumor are carried in the bloodstream and get trapped in the next organ or set of lymph nodes downstream. This is why breast cancer often spreads to the underarm’s lymph nodes but rarely in the belly. Many cancers also spread to the lung because the heart pumps blood from the body through the lungs’ blood vessels before sending it to other body parts.

Possible symptoms of advanced and metastatic cancer

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

The usual signs and symptoms of advanced and metastatic cancer are:

  • Weakness that makes doing everyday tasks, such as bathing or getting dressed, hard.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain
  • Difficulty breathing

Other symptoms may also occur, depending on the cancer’s cause, type, and where it has spread.

Source: American Cancer Society