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Understanding Systemic Spread

Local spreadLOW-COAL SPRED — Disease that has only spread to areas near the original cancer is when cancer has spread to places close to the original tumorTOO-MER — An abnormal growth in the body. Systemic spreadSIS-TEM-IK SPRED — Disease that has spread throughout the body through the bloodstream is when cancer has spread to areas far away from the original location to other organs in the body.

Any cancer—even small tumors—can progress into invasiveIN-VAY-ZIV — Something that penetrates or enters cancers that spread to other organs in the body. The cancer releases cells into the bloodstream, allowing the cells to spread very far and grow in a new part of the body.


Finding cancer cells in any organ other than where the cancer first developed is known as metastatic diseaseMET-AH-STAT-IK DUH-ZEEZ — Disease that has spread throughout the body through the bloodstream. Some common places for cancer cells to spread are the lungs, liver, bones, and sometimes the brain.

Note: MetastasizeME-TAH-STAH-SIZE — To spread to other sites of the body doesn’t always have the same significance. Sometimes, doctors say a tumor has metastasized when cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodesLIMFF NODES — Glands that filter bodily fluid and react to infections. However, in many cases, having cancer cells in the lymph nodes is still considered local spread (not systemic spread). The critical question to ask your doctor is whether you have curableCURE-A-BOWL — The ability to eliminate all of the cancer without recurrence or incurableIN-CURE-A-BOWL — The inability to eliminate all of the cancer without recurrence disease.

Let's think of systemic spread in terms of the garden.

Sometimes dandelion seeds blow far away from the original dandelion throughout the yard. When the seeds land in this new area, they take root and grow. But regardless of where this new dandelion grows, it’s still a dandelion.

When applying this concept to the human body, it often can be confusing. So let’s use an example to help.

Let’s say the cancer first formed in the colon. If the colon cancerCOAL-IN CAN-SIR — An abnormal growth that originates from colon tissue cells are released into the bloodstream, and they start growing in the lungs, it’s still colon cancer, not lung cancerLUNG CAN-SIR — An abnormal growth that originates from lung tissue. Even though the colon cancer has metastasized to the lungs, it’s still treated as colon cancer. Just like a dandelion is always a dandelion, regardless of where it grows.

So remember, if a cancer first developed in one organ but then starts growing in another organ, the type of cancer (or diagnosis) doesn’t change.

Finally, being told you have metastatic disease can be very scary. Fortunately, thanks to the extensiveEX-STEN-ZIV — Widespread research efforts, there are many available treatmentTREET-MINT — Techniques to help eliminate or control a disease options for most cancers. These treatments can help shrink and control the cancer, sometimes for very long periods. And, certain types of cancer can sometimes be cured even if the cancer has spread to another organ.

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