The place where cancer originates in the body is called the primary cancer site. These cancerous cells sometimes spread to other parts of the body & where they manifest is called metastasis or secondary cancer. Many cancers also spread to more than one area of the body so as to form multiple metastases or multiple secondary cancers.
Cancerous cells are generally carried through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other places within the body where they start to grow into new malignant tumors. Some cells from the primary cancer must therefore eventually break free so as to travel to other parts of the body. Cancer cells normally do not stick together like normal cells. Moreover, they also produce substances which often stimulate them to move. All these factors eventually make it simple for some cancer cells to go into capillaries or small lymph vessels located within the area.
When cancer cells get into small blood vessels, they would finally also be able to get into the main blood stream. These are now called circulating malignant tumor cells. Circulating blood sweeps along cancerous cells until they get stuck somewhere else in the body which is usually within small blood vessels like capillaries. This cell must then move through capillary wall into tissue of organs located nearby. This tumor cell will now multiply so as to form new tumors if conditions allow. Though this is a complicated journey & most cancer cells do not survive, just a few will however be enough for metastasis or secondary cancer to occur. Many cancer cells also probably get killed by white blood cells comprising our immune system while several others may die due to battering by the fast flow of blood. Cancerous cells in circulation often try to stick to platelets in blood so as to form clumps in order to get protection. This may also help them filter in the next capillary network & increase chances of slipping into surrounding tissue. Researchers are therefore now looking at the possibility of using blood tests which can find circulating cancer cells & avoid biopsies at a later stage. These circulating tumor cells may also enable predict ideal treatment options which will work best for each patient.
Lymphatic system forms a network of glands & tubes within the body that filter body fluid so as to fight infection. These glands also trap harmful or damaged cells including cancerous cells. When cancer cells get into small lymph vessels that are located close to primary tumors, they can easily be carried into nearby located lymph glands. Cancerous cell will then subsequently get stuck here within lymph glands & be destroyed. But then, there is a possibility that some may survive & eventually grow to form new tumors in one or more lymph nodes within the network. This type of metastases is resulting from lymph node spread.
Micrometastases is an area of cancer cell spread which is too small to be seen as some areas of tumor cells are too minute to show on any type of scan. Blood tests can only detect certain proteins which are released by cancerous cells & which can reveal sign that metastases have taken place in only a few types of cancer. But for most other cancers, not even a blood test can say whether cancer has spread.
Detection for Micrometastases in most cancers is based on the following factors.
Extra treatments like radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy are often recommended by oncologists & cancer specialists, in case they think micrometastases has occurred. The basic aim behind this move is to destroy any other areas of cancer cells before they actually grow big enough to be seen on scan.
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