What is it?

A secondary tumor, also known as a metastatic tumor, is a tumor that did not primarily develop at the site of its location, meaning that a cancer in a different location in the body has spread from its primary location. For example, cancer cells from the breast (the primary tumor) can form a tumor in the lung (secondary tumor). The secondary tumor is made of cells that are similar to those on the primary tumor.
Cancer occurs when cells genetically alter to proliferate rapidly. Some of these cells acquire the ability to circulate in the blood or lymph and reach other sites in the body. This ability is one of cancer’s hallmarks. This ability changes among different cancers. Some cancers rarely metastasize while others metastasize in early stages.

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Signs & symptoms

The symptoms depend on the site of the secondary tumor. The lungs, liver, brain and bones are the most common organs struck by metastases from solid tumors.The nearby lymph nodes are commonly involved.

Lymph nodes metastasis may cause a change in the size or consistency of the lymph node
Lung metastasis may cause cough, breathing difficulties, hemoptysis (coughing blood)
Liver metastasis may cause liver enlargement, nausea and jaundice
Bone metastasis can cause bone pain and fractures
Brain metastasis may cause seizures, headaches, neurological changes (personality changes, vertigo, walking problems and more)


Secondary tumors can be diagnosed either after a primary tumor has been located, at the time of the primary tumor diagnosis or before the primary tumor has been located. In some cases, it is initially unknown whether a tumor is primary or secondary. However, since cells that form a secondary tumor are similar to the ones of the primary tumor, the pathologist can usually tell their origin.
Secondary tumors may be diagnosed using various types of imaging studies. In some cases, metastases are detected during physical examination (for example by palpation) or during surgery. The type of imaging is chosen based on the cancer type, its common locations of metastases, the patient’s symptoms, the availability of the imaging studies and more. Imaging studies commonly used to detect metastasis include
*Computed Tomography (CT)
*Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI)
*Positron emission tomography(PET)


The treatment depends on the type of primary tumor, the location and extent of the metastases, the patient’s characteristics, preferences and more. There are many optional interventions for treating metastases including radiosurgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy, hormonal therapy, and surgery. However, there are cases where interventions were not shown to improve life expectancy or quality of life.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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