When cancer spreads it becomes metastatic. This happens when cancer cells break away from the main tumor and spread to other areas of the body. Even though the cancer is in a new site, since it's made up of the original cancer cells it is still considered to be the original type of cancer. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, it is then considered metastatic lung cancer, not brain cancer.

Where a cancer spreads is dependent on a variety of factors, including primary cancer location. While each patient case is unique, common sites of metastasis include liver, lung, bones and brain.

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cancer cells

At Moffitt Cancer Center our expert team of researchers are looking for ways to not only better treat metastatic cancers, but also using innovative ideas like predictive modeling to anticipate a tumor's path.


After a cancer diagnosis, it's important to continue recommended checkups with providers and pay close attention to possible signs of metastasis. Symptoms experienced are dependent on the location of metastases, some possibilities include:

  • Lungs – A persistent cough or shortness of breath
  • Brain – Headaches or seizures
  • Liver – Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Bone – Bone pain or unusual fractures

It is essential to consult with a physician to receive an accurate diagnosis if any of these symptoms are experienced, as many conditions can cause similar symptoms.

While difficult to predict metastases, newer tools are leading the way in detecting metastasis, including "liquid biopsy" blood testing. Moffitt researchers have shown this non-invasive analysis can help some patients detect cancer cells in the bloodstream leading to an improved understanding of tumor progression, as well as treatment selection and response.


Treatment Options

Once a cancer has spread it can be more difficult to control, but there are several treatment options, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy radiation therapy, surgery or a combination of treatments. Because metastatic cancer can be challenging to manage, it is important to seek treatment at a high-volume cancer center, like Moffitt.

The multispecialty teams of experts at our renowned NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center diagnose and treat many metastatic cancer patients, and offer the latest advances in surgical approaches, immunotherapy, and other treatment strategies. For instance, advanced surgical techniques like lymphatic mapping, which helps doctors see if cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes, are provided by surgical oncologists at Moffitt and help them approach care accordingly.



Thanks to research, certain types of metastatic cancers can be managed long term and even more advances on the horizon continue to provide hope. Through clinical trials, clinicians and researchers at Moffitt are actively working to further advance the standard of care for all individuals who face metastatic cancer.

Moffitt's own Dr. Brian Czerniecki, chair of the Breast Cancer Oncology Department and Dr. Peter Forsyth, chair of the Neuro-Oncology Department are partnering to research how immunotherapy can benefit brain-metastatic breast cancer patients.

"There are very few treatment options for breast cancer patients who have brain metastasis to the central nervous system. We already know these three immunotherapies alone work well for a small number of patients, but our preclinical studies suggest that using them together in a three-pronged approach could increase tumor visibility to the immune system and in turn work to shrink the cancer," said Czerniecki.

Moffitt's trusted team of specialists have dedicated their entire careers to researching, understanding and providing outstanding medical care and advancing cancer treatment.

To learn more about Moffitt's innovative testing and treatment options, or to schedule an appointment visit Moffitt.org.

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