AskDefine | Define metastasis

Dictionary Definition



1 the spreading of a disease to another part of the body
2 the organic processes (in a cell or organism) that are necessary for life [syn: metabolism, metabolic process] [also: metastases (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



Late Latin, from the Greek μεταστασις ‘removal, change’, from μεθισταναι ‘remove, change’.


IPA: /mɪ'tæstəsɪs/


  1. The tranferrence of a bodily function or disease to another part of the body, specifically the development of a secondary area of disease remote from the original site, as with some cancers.
    • 1963: Stayed in her own house, searched her body each morning and examined her conscience each night for progressive symptoms of the metastasis she feared was in her. — Thomas Pynchon, V.


the tranferrence of a bodily function or disease to another part of the body

Extensive Definition

Metastasis (Greek: displacement, μετά=next + στάσις=placement, plural: metastases), sometimes abbreviated mets, is the spread of a disease from one organ or part to another non-adjacent organ or part. Only malignant tumor cells and infections have the capacity to metastasize. Metastatic disease is a synonym of metastasis.
Cancer cells can "break away", "leak", or "spill" from a primary tumor, enter lymphatic and blood vessels, circulate through the bloodstream, and settle down to grow within normal tissues elsewhere in the body. Metastasis is one of three hallmarks of malignancy (contrast benign tumors). Most tumors and other neoplasms can metastasize, although in varying degrees (e.g., glioma and basal cell carcinoma rarely metastasize).
Cancer cells may spread to lymph nodes (regional lymph nodes) near the primary tumor. This is called nodal involvement, positive nodes, or regional disease. Localized spread to regional lymph nodes near the primary tumor is not normally counted as metastasis, although this is a sign of worse prognosis.
In addition to the above routes, metastasis may occur by direct seeding, e.g., in the peritoneal cavity or pleural cavity.
Cancer researchers studying the conditions necessary for cancer metastasis have discovered that one of the critical events required is the growth of a new network of blood vessels, called tumor angiogenesis. It has been found that angiogenesis inhibitors would therefore prevent the growth of metastases. Studies have shown that, if simple questioning does not reveal the cancer's source (coughing up blood -'probably lung', urinating blood - 'probably bladder'), complex imaging will not either. In some of these cases a primary may appear later.
The use of immunohistochemistry has permitted pathologists to give an identity to many of these metastases. However, imaging of the indicated area only occasionally reveals a primary. In rare cases (e.g., of melanoma), no primary tumor is found, even on autopsy. It is therefore thought that some primary tumors can regress completely, but leave their metastases behind.

Common sites of origin

Diagnosis of primary and secondary tumors

The cells in a metastatic tumor resemble those in the primary tumor. Once the cancerous tissue is examined under a microscope to determine the cell type, a doctor can usually tell whether that type of cell is normally found in the part of the body from which the tissue sample was taken.
For instance, breast cancer cells look the same whether they are found in the breast or have spread to another part of the body. So, if a tissue sample taken from a tumor in the lung contains cells that look like breast cells, the doctor determines that the lung tumor is a secondary tumor. Still, the determination of the primary tumor can often be very difficult, and the pathologist may have to use several adjuvant techniques, such as immunohistochemistry, FISH (fluorescent in situ hybridization), and others. Despite the use of techniques, in some cases the primary tumor remains unidentified.
Metastatic cancers may be found at the same time as the primary tumor, or months or years later. When a second tumor is found in a patient that has been treated for cancer in the past, it is more often a metastasis than another primary tumor.

Treatments for metastatic cancer

Whether or not a cancer is local or has spread to other locations affects treatment and survival. If the cancer spreads to other tissues and organs, it may decrease a patient's likelihood of survival. However, there are some cancers (i.e., leukemia, brain) that can kill without spreading at all.
When cancer has metastasized, it may be treated with radiosurgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, hormone therapy, surgery or a combination of these. The choice of treatment generally depends on the type of primary cancer, the size and location of the metastasis, the patient's age and general health, and the types of treatments used previously. In patients diagnosed with CUP, it is still possible to treat the disease even when the primary tumor cannot be located.
The treatment options currently available are rarely able to cure metastatic cancer, though some tumors, such as testicular cancer, are usually still curable.


See also

External links

Medical information about metastatic cancer
Charities and advocacy groups dealing with metastatic cancer
Not specifically about metastatic cancer
metastasis in Arabic: نقيلة
metastasis in Bulgarian: Метастаза
metastasis in Catalan: Metàstasi
metastasis in Czech: Metastáza
metastasis in Danish: Metastase
metastasis in German: Metastase
metastasis in Spanish: metástasis
metastasis in Basque: Metastasi
metastasis in Persian: متاستاز
metastasis in French: Métastase (médecine)
metastasis in Croatian: Metastaze
metastasis in Indonesian: Metastasis
metastasis in Italian: Metastasi
metastasis in Hebrew: גרורה
metastasis in Latin: Metastasis
metastasis in Lithuanian: Metastazė
metastasis in Hungarian: Áttét
metastasis in Malay (macrolanguage): Metastasis
metastasis in Dutch: Uitzaaiing
metastasis in Norwegian: Metastase
metastasis in Japanese: 転移 (医学)
metastasis in Polish: Przerzuty nowotworowe
metastasis in Portuguese: Metástase
metastasis in Russian: Метастаз
metastasis in Simple English: Metastasis
metastasis in Slovak: Metastáza
metastasis in Finnish: Etäpesäke
metastasis in Swedish: Metastas
metastasis in Turkish: Metastaz
metastasis in Chinese: 遠端轉移

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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