When cancer spreads from its original site to other parts of the body, it's known as metastatic cancer. This article aims to provide information about cancer , the common areas of based on the origin of the cancer, observable signs and symptoms, and how families can support their loved ones as the cancer progresses.

What is Metastatic Cancer?

Metastatic cancer is when cancer cells spread from the point of origin to distant areas in the body. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells can grow outside of their original location. Metastatic tumors can grow into nearby tissue, travel through the bloodstream, or move through the lymph system.

Types of Cancer Prone to Metastasis

Virtually all types of cancers can potentially metastasize, but certain types are more likely to spread. Some common types include:

  1. Breast cancer
  2. Prostate cancer
  3. Lung cancer
  4. Kidney cancer
  5. Thyroid cancer
  6. Colon cancer
  7. Pancreatic cancer
  8. Bone cancer
  9. Liver cancer

Common Sites of Metastatic Cancer

The most common areas where cancer tends to spread:

  1. Bones
  2. Liver
  3. Lungs
  4. Brain
  5. Lymph nodes

Common Sites of Cancer Metastasis Table

Cancer OriginCommon Sites of Metastasis
BoneLiver, Lungs, Peritoneum
BrainVarious parts of brain
BreastLungs, Liver, Bones, Brain
ColorectalLiver, Lungs, Peritoneum
KidneyLungs, Bones, Liver, Brain
LaryngealLungs, Bone, Liver, Neck, Trachea
LiverLungs, Bones, Lymph Nodes
LungBones, Lymph Nodes, Lungs, Liver
OvaryPeritoneum, Liver, Lungs
PancreasLiver, Lungs, Peritoneum
Parotid GlandLungs, Lymph Nodes, Nerves in the Face and Neck
ProstateBones, Lymph Nodes, Lungs, Liver
StomachLiver, Lungs, Peritoneum
ThyroidLungs, Bones, Lymph Nodes
All types of cancers can potentially metastasize, but certain types are more likely to spread. This table considers the most common areas where cancer tends to spread based on where starting location (origin) of the cancer.

Observable Signs and Symptoms of Metastasis

Signs of metastasis can vary depending on the affected area. Some common observable signs include:

  • Persistent pain: Feeling pain that does not disappear or worsens over time. This can happen if the cancer cells damage the bones, nerves, or organs.
  • Fractures or bone weakness: Bones that break easily or feel weak can happen if cancer cells weaken the bones or cause them to lose calcium.
  • Difficulty breathing: If the cancer cells spread to the lungs or chest area, trouble breathing or coughing can occur frequently.
  • Frequent headaches or neurological symptoms: If the cancer cells spread to the brain or spinal cord, you may experience headaches, dizziness, or changes in how you think or act.
  • Swelling or lumps in lymph nodes: Seeing swelling or lumps under the skin, especially near the armpits, neck, or groin. This can happen if the cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes, which are small glands that help fight .
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes) if the liver is affected: Skin or eyes that look yellow. This can happen if the cancer cells spread to the liver, which helps digest food and remove toxins from the body.

Supporting Your Loved One as Cancer Progresses

As cancer progresses, your support becomes crucial. Here are some ways to help your loved one:

Emotional Support

Sometimes, your loved one may want to talk about how they feel or what they are afraid of. You can be a good listener and tell them you are there for them. You can also say things that make them feel hopeful and loved, such as “I'm proud of you” or “You are not alone.”

Physical Comfort

Your loved one may have pain or because of the cancer or the treatments. You can help them by giving them their medicines, making them comfortable in bed, or massaging their hands or feet. You can also ask them what they need or want to feel better.

Practical Help

Your loved one may be unable to do things they used to, such as cooking, cleaning, or driving. You can help them by doing these things for them or asking someone else to help. You can also help them get to their doctor appointments and keep track of their medicines and test results.


Your loved one may have things they want to say or do before they die. You can help them by having honest and respectful conversations with them. You can ask them about their wishes and preferences, such as where they want to die, who they want to see, or what they want to do. You can also help them write a will, a letter, or a video message for their loved ones.

Quality Time

Your loved one may want to spend time with you and do things they enjoy. You can help them by being with them and doing activities that make them happy, such as watching a movie, listening to music, or playing a game. You can also share memories, stories, or jokes with them and make them laugh.

Care Coordination

Your loved one may need different care from various people, such as doctors, nurses, or hospice workers. You can help them by working with these people and ensuring they get the best care possible. You can also ask questions, share information, and express your concerns or opinions.


Understanding metastatic cancer and its signs is crucial for patients, , and nurses. By knowing the common sites of metastasis, observing symptoms, and providing compassionate support, families can enhance the quality of life for their loved ones on their end-of-life journey.


Clinical Landscape of Cancer Metastases

Metastasis (Metastatic Cancer): Definition, Biology & Types

A to Z List of Cancer Types

Cleveland Clinic – Metastasis: Definition, Biology & Types

National Cancer Institute – Metastatic Cancer: When Cancer Spreads

American Cancer Society – Understanding Advanced and Metastatic Cancer

NCBI – On the Origin of Cancer Metastasis

The Importance of Caregiver Journaling

Reporting Changes in Condition to Hospice

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The Caregiver's Guide to Cancer: Compassionate Advice for Caring for You and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Cancer Caregiving A-to-Z: An At-Home Guide for Patients and Families

Peace in the Face of Cancer

A Handbook of caring for someone with cancer: Instructions for the Support Person or Caregiver Helping a Loved One Survive Cancer

Co-Surviving Cancer: The Guide for Caregivers, Family Members and Friends of Adults Living with Cancer

Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

Surviving Caregiving with Dignity, Love, and Kindness

Caregivers.com | Simplifying the Search for In-Home Care

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Providing Comfort During the Last Days of Life with Barbara Karnes RN (YouTube Video)

Preparing the patient, family, and caregivers for a “Good Death.”

Velocity of Changes in Condition as an Indicator of Approaching Death (often helpful to answer how soon? or when?)

The Dying Process and the End of Life

The Last Hours of Life

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Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience

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