A Doctor Decodes Metastatic Cancer: Diagnosis & Treatment Options
(Actor Sonali Bendre recently revealed that she is suffering from a high-grade cancer that has metastasised. Here’s a doctor explaining what exactly is metastatic cancer.)
According to the World Health Organisation, lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervix and stomach cancer are the most common among women.
However apart from these there are also certain types of cancer which are not much known to people.
Signs & Symptoms of Metastatic Cancer
While metastatic cancer cannot be easily diagnosed, there are certain signs and symptoms that can help recognise the disease such as:
- Difficulty in walking and sudden fractures (bone metastasis)
- Dizziness, seizures
- Even visual problems (brain metastasis)
- Shortness of breath (lung metastasis) &
- Random swelling in the belly or diseases like jaundice (liver metastasis)
The symptoms largely depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumour.
Possible Cure for Metastatic Cancer
The treatment for metastatic cancer is often different from the ones used for a normal tumour. Metastatic cancer is difficult to control once it spreads and treatment depends on the original site of cancer, how much it has spread, the patient’s age and medical history.
Tumour markers can be picked up by a blood test called liquid biopsy and can indicate the type of metastatic cancer like Ca 125, Ca 19.9, CEA, Beta HCG, alpha feto protein, circulating tumour cells CTCs and especially lung cancer.
There are variety of treatment for metastatic cancer, the most important being chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and immunotherapy.
The primary benefit of chemotherapy is response time and it works very well for metastatic breast cancer. Chemotherapy shrinks tumours faster than hormone therapy. If the first chemotherapy drug stops working with hormone therapies, and the cancer begins to grow again, a second or third drug can be used.
Radiation is an important treatment to control and sometimes cure brain metastases as it can disrupt the blood-brain barrier to facilitate drugs to penetrate the brain tumours. Radiation can shrink and help control specific spots where the cancer has spread.
The radiation dose and schedule for metastases depends on a number of factors such as the urgency of the situation, frequency of radiation and scheduled other ongoing treatments if any.
Surgery is generally advised to be conducted among patients suffering from spinal cord compression caused by metastatic cancer.
Patients with metastatic spinal cord compression can be treated with direct decompressive surgery along with post-operative radiotherapy to retain and regain the ability to walk longer as compared to patients treated with just radiotherapy.
Post decades of research on solid tumour immunology, immunotherapy has shown effectiveness in patients with metastatic solid cancers.
With this approach, tumour regression is now being reported for cancers, but success remains constrained by the identification of antigens expressed with high specificity by cancer cells and not by normal tissues.