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Doctor looking at lung x-ray

Lung cancer can spread (metastasize) in several ways. Cancerous cells can grow into surrounding healthy tissues, including the lining of the lungs and nearby lobes. This is known as local metastasis. Or, cancerous cells can invade the lymph nodes and travel through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body. This is known as distant metastasis.

What parts of the body does lung cancer spread to?

Lung cancer can spread to almost any part of the body, but the most common locations for metastasis include the:

  • Liver
  • Bones
  • Brain
  • Adrenal glands

Once cancerous cells make their way to other parts of the body, they can continue to reproduce, eventually forming secondary tumors. No matter where secondary tumors develop, however, the cancer is still classified as the original (primary) type of tumor. For instance, lung cancer that spreads to the liver is considered metastatic lung cancer – not liver cancer.

How fast does lung cancer spread?

The rate at which lung cancer spreads varies from patient to patient. But, generally speaking, lung cancer is typically a cancer that grows quickly and spreads early. Doctors can use various imaging tests – including PET (positron emission tomography) scans, bone scans and ultrasounds – to determine if cancer has spread.

Metastatic lung cancer treatment

Depending on where a secondary tumor develops, oncologists may suggest different types of treatment. Surgery may not be recommended if the cancer has spread extensively throughout the body, although it can sometimes be an option for local lung cancer metastases. Distant metastases are more likely to be treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Clinical trials may also be an option.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we have extensive experience in treating metastatic lung cancer. We offer our patients a wide range of treatment options, with recommendations tailored to each patient’s unique needs. When treating metastatic lung cancer, our oncologists take into consideration the size and location of the secondary tumor, as well as the cellular makeup of the primary tumor, to determine the best approach to treatment.

​Medically Reviewed by ​ Dr. Ben Creelan.

For more information about metastatic lung cancer treatment at Moffitt, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to request an appointment. You’re welcome to obtain a physician’s referral, or you can contact us directly without one if it’s easier for you.