Metastatic disease refers to cancer that has spread beyond the site of the primary tumour. As cancer grows, cells may break away and enter your blood stream or lymph nodes. They are then carried to other organs in distant parts of your body. You may also hear this condition referred to as Stage IV cancer. Metastatic disease is considered incurable, but life expectancy depends on several factors.
Location and Type of Primary Tumor
Some cancers, such as adenocarcinoma of the prostate, tend to progress slowly. A patient may live with this condition for years, even after metastasis. Other types of cancer, such as melanoma, are aggressive and quickly destroy distant organs as they spread through your body. Life expectancy with metastatic melanoma is usually measured in weeks to months.
Location of Secondary Tumor
Knowing where the cancer has spread, also known as the location of the secondary tumour, is also important in helping to determine life expectancy. Bone cancer may be very painful, but it is usually not immediately life-threatening. Cancer that has spread to your liver, lungs or brain, however, can cause death much more quickly. Some types of cancer are more likely than others to attack vital organs. Colon cancer often metastasises directly to the liver, and breast cancer may spread to several organs at once.
Health of the Patient
Elderly, frail patients and patients who are weak and run down naturally tend to succumb faster to metastatic disease than patients who, aside from the cancer, are in reasonably good health. Patients whose overall health is good are also more likely to be eligible for further treatment aimed at controlling the secondary tumour.
Availability of Further Treatment
Although metastatic disease is considered not curable, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation may be available to prolong life and promote comfort. The goal of these treatments is to shrink the secondary tumour. Treatment availability is based on the type of the primary cancer, the size and location of the secondary tumours, the age and health of the patient, and which treatments have been attempted already. People with metastatic disease may also be eligible to participate in clinical trials--the process of testing new treatments whose effectiveness is not yet established.
Simply knowing that a person has metastatic disease is not enough to provide an accurate prognosis. Depending on a multitude of factors, a person with Stage IV cancer may live for weeks, months or even years. Anyone diagnosed with metastatic disease should consult with one or more oncologists, or cancer specialists, to determine what treatments might be available to help him live as long and as comfortably as possible.