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Prognosis of Lung Cancer Spread


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Lung Cancer Spread to the Liver

Lung cancer that has spread to the liver may not cause any symptoms, and is often discovered when a test, such as a CT scan, are done to look for spread of your cancer. When symptoms are present, they may include pain under your ribs on the right side of your body, loss of appetite, and nausea. If there are many tumors in your liver or if the metastases are large enough to obstruct ducts in your liver, you may develop jaundice (a yellow coloring of your skin and the whites of your eyes).

Tests that are done to look for spread of lung cancer to the liver may include an abdominal ultrasound, a CT scan of your abdomen, or a PET scan.

Treatment is usually chemotherapy designed to treat the primary cancer as well. In rare cases if only a single tumor or a few tumors are present, surgery may be recommended to remove the tumors. Sometimes a procedure called embolization may be recommended as well. This is a procedure that stops the blood flow to part of the liver so cancer cells that are present can’t survive.

Lung Cancer Spread to the Adrenal Glands

Lung cancer spread to the adrenal glands (small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and produce hormones), does not usually cause any symptoms, and is most often discovered incidentally when a scan is done to stage cancer.

Treatment with chemotherapy for the cancer may be helpful. In a very small number of people who were able to have their lung cancer removed and had only one spot in one of the adrenal glands, surgery to remove the adrenal gland and adrenal metastases has resulted in long-term survival.

Lung Cancer Spread to Other Areas of the Body

While the regions above are the most common sites for lung cancer metastases, lung cancer has on occasion spread to the stomach, small and large intestines, the pancreas, the eye, the skin, the kidney, and even the breast.

Prognosis of Lung Cancer That Has Spread

Other than spread to lymph nodes which can include earlier stages of the disease, lung cancer that has spread to distant regions of the body is classified as stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer or extensive stage small cell lung cancer. The overall 5-year survival rate for stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer is sadly less than 10%. The median survival, that is the amount of time after which half of people are still alive and the other half have passed away, is 8 months. The overall 5-year survival rate for extensive stage small cell lung cancer is 6%. Average survival is 6 to 12 months with treatment, but only 2 to 4 months without treatment.

That said, there are reports of people who have survived and done well for many years even after a diagnosis of lung cancer that has spread.

Further Reading:


Husaini, H. et al. Prevention and Management of Bone Metastases in Lung Cancer. A Review. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2009. 4(2):251-259.

Mercier, O. et al. Surgical treatment of solitary adrenal metastasis from non-small cell lung cancer. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 2005. 130:136-140.

National Institute of Health. Medline Plus. Liver Metastases. Updated 09/04/08. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000277.htm

Ricciardi, S. and F. de Marinis. Multimodality management of non-small cell lung cancer patients with brain metastases. Current Opinion in Oncology. 2010. 22(2):86-93.

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