Metastases spread the cancer throughout the body. The cancer colonies usually differ from the original tumor – which makes treatment much more difficult.
Metastases in the first illness
Sometimes breast cancer is only diagnosed after it has metastasized. About three percent of all breast cancer patients already have metastases when they first develop the disease. The same treatment recommendations apply to this form of the disease as to metastatic breast cancer in the event of relapse (relapse). It is irrelevant for the therapy whether metastases were found in the primary disease or in the relapse.
Cancer occurs when individual cells get out of hand. And cancer also spreads via individual cells: They leave the tumor and migrate through the body to settle in another location. These colonies, called metastases, are often the real danger in cancer.
Why do metastases form? How do they spread? Researchers are studying these questions intensely, and for good reason: Metastases are responsible for nearly 90% of deaths in cancer patients.
If doctors could prevent new colonies from forming, cancers would have lost much of their horror. But there will probably not be a simple solution. Because research so far shows above all how complex and multi-layered the development of metastases is.
Evolution of cancer cells
The genome of a tumor is versatile. Many cancer cells change rapidly and develop new properties in the process. This development follows similar rules as formulated by Darwin in his theory of evolution: New clones are constantly emerging, and the more aggressive and dangerous they are, the more likely they will prevail. Metastases are often the product of, particularly aggressive clones.
This also explains why metastases usually differ in many features from the original ulcer (the primary tumor). Your genetic material is unstable: you activate new cancer genes and switch others off in return. Therapies that effectively combat the primary tumor may therefore be ineffective in the case of metastases. And since some tumors constantly form new metastases, the genetic diversity is increasing 3 – and with it the risk that a colony will no longer respond to therapy.
Metastases also differ from cancer to cancer – some types are more likely to colonize than others. Breast, lung and testicular cancers are more prone to metastasis, while glioblastomas in the brain rarely do 4. In addition, there are preferred locations where colonies often form – almost all primary tumors radiate into the bones, lungs or liver 5. However, doctors usually only find metastases in the adrenal glands that stem from lung or colon cancer cells.
Classification of the metastases
There are two ways that metastases can spread in the body. One path leads first via the lymph vessels to the adjacent lymph nodes, and from there via the bloodstream to other organs (lymphogenic metastasis). The second route is shorter: cancer cells migrate directly from the tumor into the bloodstream and then spread further in the body (haematogenic metastasis).
Another classification is also used, depending on the distance that has been covered. If the colonies remain close to the primary tumor, doctors speak of regional metastases. This is the case, for example, when the lymph nodes in the immediate catchment area are colonized. However, if the cancer cells migrate to other parts of the body and organs further away, these colonies are called distant metastases.
This variety of metastases is a big problem for doctors: effective therapies become almost impossible. The only option is often the tedious removal of individual colonies by a surgeon. If only a few metastases have spread in the body, there is even a certain chance of success.
At an advanced stage, however, an operation can usually only aim to save the patient as much suffering as possible. Although new targeted therapies have already achieved astonishing effects in exceptional cases, these were almost always short-lived. Even the new immunotherapies have only helped some of the patients so far. Natural Cancer Diets can be helpful for the diagnosis of metastases.
Researchers have learned a lot about metastases over the past decade, but almost every new finding has raised more questions. So far they have hardly been able to help medicine: In the fight against cancer, metastases remain the most dangerous opponent.
Diagnosis: how are metastases detected?
Women who have had breast cancer before will pay close attention to the signs on their bodies. During the regularly agreed follow-up examinations, the doctor and the patient will pay attention to symptoms. In addition to pain, metastases can also manifest themselves as loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting or a rash. Ultimately, however, metastases can only be determined through medical examinations. If there is any suspicion, those affected should definitely have their symptoms clarified by a doctor. He can explain to you which diagnostic method he can use to determine the metastases in your case and which therapy recommendations he can give.