Why I had to learn about Metastasis
I was deeply engrossed in my class XII examination prep, and those were the days of not-so-many mobile phones, would say, about 8 years ago – Tring, Tring, Tring din of the landline killed the silence at one go and bad news was making inroads. My mom answered and she almost collapsed as she heard that her father was diagnosed to have “metastatic lung cancer”, and he was told that he would live for a week, if at all.
Unfortunately, the cut-off time of one week came true, and he barely lived for a week after having detected positive for cancer – barely for a week indeed!!
The word “metastatic” was lingering in my mind for a long, long time, and I was so very petrified of even looking it up. I ignored as if ignorance would vanish our problems away.
Somebody Answer me, Please!
During my formative years, a couple of questions always haunted me as to why my grandfather had to wait until the last stage for his cancer diagnosis (or) why did he even ignore overt signs & symptoms, if there were? I wish I had answers to these questions, which I did not; which most of us wouldn’t have either. More I thought about it, greater was the feeling of helplessness in me. After myriad failures, I became determined to seek answers for myself and also for a few others who, I am sure, would have sailed at some point in time in the past or are still sailing in the same boat.
In my endeavour to find answers, I started talking to my friends who were budding doctors and also a few friends of mine who were closely associated with the medical fraternity to try and understand what exactly happened. Alas! I found that “metastatic” stage is indeed the last or the fourth stage of the cancer.
Learning about metastasis became my life’s goal. I talked to my buddies who were doctors, read encyclopaedias (in those pre-internet days), picked up science journals from a local library. And the more I learned, the more I realized how little most patients and their caregivers know about the metastasis.
I started from scratch.
What is metastasis?
Metastasis basically means cancer that spreads to a different part of the body from where it started.
Meta means Beyond
Stasis means Control
Metastasis = “Rapid transition/migration to another place”.
This literally means migration and growth of some cancerous cells from the primary site of cancer to another location/organ in the body.
I also learned that there are other names for metastasis; they are metastatic cancer and stage IV cancer. Sometimes, the term “advanced cancer” also describes metastatic disease, but this isn’t always true.
Is Cancer Serious? Should I Care?
Yes. it is serious. The main reason why cancer is serious is its ability to spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells can spread locally by moving into nearby normal tissue/s. Cancer can also spread regionally to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs. It can also spread to distant parts of the body through lymphatic system or blood.
For instance, “locally advanced” (cancer that has spread from where it started to nearby tissue or lymph nodes (a small bean-shaped structure that is part of the body’s immune system)) cancer is NOT the same as metastatic cancer. It describes cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes but not throughout the body.
Metastatic cancer is always known by its primary cancer site. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as stage IV breast cancer, not as lung cancer.
Sometimes when people are diagnosed with metastatic cancer, doctors cannot find where it started; this type of cancer is called cancer of unknown primary origin or CUP.
Cancer is Smart!
Cancer can spread to almost any part of the body, although different types of cancers are more likely to spread to certain areas than others. The most common sites where cancer spreads are the bone, liver, brain and lung. The following list shows the most common sites of metastases:
Do not Ignore Symptoms
Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms, however, when symptoms do occur, their nature and frequency will depend on the size and location of the metastasis. 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
Treatment is Challenging!
Treating metastatic cancer, especially when it has spread to several different locations in the body, is an enormous challenge. For all types of cancer, patients with metastatic tumors are often unresponsive to existing therapies, and achieving long-term remission in these patients is far less likely than it is for patients with localized cancer.
Patients with metastatic cancer can often survive up to an year or even more with palliative treatment with palliative radiation, multiple lines of chemotherapy or newer targeted treatments.
Preventing Metastasis? Ongoing Research Gives Hope
Research is now learning about potential strategies for preventing metastasis by studying patients with localized cancer who are treated with adjuvant or neoadjuvant therapy and who do not go on to have metastatic disease; did these patients not have disseminated cancer cells? Or did they have disseminated cancer cells that didn’t grow? Another strategy to prevent metastasis is by blocking the development of pre-metastatic niches or targeting the cells and molecules that help disseminated tumor cells survive and grow.
Take My Advice
My humble urge to all those out there reading my story is that Don’t Lose Your Loved Ones The Way I Lost my grandfather. The only mistake he made was to ignore those apparently not-so-serious symptoms, which he shouldn’t have had and we should not either. Having the RIGHT diagnosis at the RIGHT time with RIGHT treatment is of paramount importance in determining survival chances.
Take help and take care. We only have one life to live. Live better!