Doctors Say These are the Best Ways to Know if You Have Cancer Spreading, Including Fatigue
Metastatic cancer is a serious and often life-threatening condition that occurs when cancer cells spread beyond the primary site where they originated. These cells can travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body and form new tumors, a process known as metastasis. It can happen fast. Just this month, Tina Turner's son died ot metastic colon cancer
This kind of cancer is also referred to as stage 4 cancer, as it is the most advanced stage of the disease. It is generally more difficult to treat than earlier stages of cancer, as the cancer cells have already spread and may be more resistant to treatment. "As long as conditions are favorable for the cancer cells at every step, some of them are able to form new tumors in other parts of the body," says the National Cancer Institute. "Metastatic cancer cells can also remain inactive at a distant site for many years before they begin to grow again, if at all."
What are the best ways to know if this is happening to you? Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Many Different Types of Cancer Can Spread, With Differing Symptoms, Say Doctors
There are many different types of cancer that can spread to other parts of the body and become metastatic, including breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. The symptoms of metastatic cancer can vary depending on the specific type of cancer and the location of the metastases, but may include pain, fatigue, weight loss, and other general symptoms.
"Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms," says the National Cancer Institute. "When symptoms do occur, what they are like and how often you have them will depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumors. Some common signs of metastatic cancer include:
+pain and fractures, when cancer has spread to the bone
+headache, seizures, or dizziness, when cancer has spread to the brain
+shortness of breath, when cancer has spread to the lung
+jaundice or swelling in the belly, when cancer has spread to the liver."
You May Have Fatigue or Unexpected Weight Loss
If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be related to cancer, such as an unusual fatigue, persistent cough, unexplained weight loss, or changes in bowel habits, it is important to speak with your doctor. Early detection and treatment of cancer can improve your chances of a successful outcome.
Get a Physical Test
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and may find signs of metastasis, such as lumps or swelling in the lymph nodes. Swelling of the lymph nodes, also known as lymphadenopathy, can be a sign of infection, inflammation, or other medical conditions. In some cases, lymph node swelling can be a sign of cancer, although this is not always the case. If you are experiencing swollen lymph nodes, it's important to talk to a doctor. They can perform a physical examination and may recommend additional tests to determine the cause of the swelling. These tests may include a biopsy, imaging tests, or blood tests. It's also important to keep in mind that there are many other potential causes of lymph node swelling, such as infection, inflammation, or other medical conditions. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose the cause of swollen lymph nodes.
Have Imaging Done
Your doctor may order imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI scans, or PET scans to look for metastases in other parts of the body. For example, when it comes to a brain tumor, "your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and may do a neurological exam to look for changes in motor and sensory function, vision, coordination, balance, mental status, and in mood or behavior" or "your healthcare provider may diagnose a meningioma using an MRI or CT scan to get a picture of the brain and nearby structure," says Dr. Michael McDermott, neurosurgeon and chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute.
A Biopsy Can Confirm Evidence of Cancer Cells
A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from the suspicious area and examined under a microscope. This can confirm the presence of cancer cells and help determine the type of cancer. "Your provider may want to remove a sample of the tumor to examine it under a microscope before making the diagnosis," says Dr. McDermott.
Blood Tests May be Necessary
Your doctor may order blood tests to look for certain markers that may indicate the presence of cancer cells. For example, "While the color of skin remains a key indicator of diseases and the need for a blood test, there are other signs in the body and skin that may need a blood test," says Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D. Professor of Public Health New Mexico State University. "These could include abnormal growths in the skin (e.g. moles, warts, cysts, tags, lumps, etc.). A blood test is needed to ensure that these are not cancerous growths, what blood cells look like, or if there are other problems occurring simultaneously. As skin cancer is among the most common types of cancer, such growths should be assessed carefully."
How to Get Help
Treatment for metastatic cancer may involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapies. The goal of treatment is to control the cancer and alleviate symptoms, although in some cases a cure may be possible.
Living with metastatic cancer can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. It is important for individuals with metastatic cancer to work closely with their healthcare team and to seek support from friends, family, and support groups. It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.