Like most things in cancer, there are four main stages of lung cancer; stage I, II, III, and IV. Stage IV is also medically called as metastasis stage, the cancer has spread to a distant organ. It can spread anywhere, but it’s likely to spread to certain organs. One them is adrenal glands, two glands located on above each kidney.
In the first diagnosis of a cancer, you will also follow tests to determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of how doctors describe the severity of your cancer (how far and how big it has grown).
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Knowing the stage of the disease is important since it will affect the treatment plan. For instance, early cancer is usually smaller in size, in one place, and has not spread yet.
For such case, a local treatment (such as with a surgery or radiotherapy) is effective enough to treat and remove the cancer completely. A local treatment means it works only for one area of the body.
In advanced cases such as stage IV, metastasis cancer (a condition of when the cancer has spread to other organs), local treatments alone are not effective enough.
For such case, advanced treatments that can widely target areas of the body (not only one area) are needed. These treatments are also called systemic treatments, a medication that circulates throughout the body.
Surgery is quite rare to be used for metastatic cancer. Chemotherapy, biological therapy, or hormone therapy is likely to be used since these treatments can treat widely areas or circulate throughout the whole body.
When your doctor is talking about lung cancer, this is usually referred to a primary lung cancer (cancer that started from the original cells in the lungs). Cancer cells can break away for the primary tumor, traveling to other parts of the body and causing a new cancer growth called ‘secondary or metastatic cancer’.
Lung cancer metastasis can spread to any part of the body. But typically, it is likely to spread to particular areas such as particular lymph nodes (especially for lymph nodes within the chest), liver, bones, adrenal glands, and brain
Stage IV of lung cancer means that you have one or some of the following conditions:
- The cancer cells are found not only in one lung, but also in both lungs.
- Metastasis, it has spread to another part /organ of the body, such as adrenal gland.
- The disease has caused fluid buildups containing cancer cells around the lungs or heart.
It’s not always easy to find the metastasis of lung cancer. Even sometime doctors are not sure whether or not it has spread. But if they believe that it has metastasized, they usually will look at the nearby lymph nodes.
If some cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, this signals that the cancer has started to spread. In fact once the cancer cells have arrived in the lymph nodes, they are likely to be easier to spread and affect other parts of the body.
Occasionally, cancers that have started elsewhere in the body can spread to one or two adrenal glands. Some of these cancers include cancers of lung, kidney, melanoma (skin), bowel, breast, and lymphoma (cancer of lymph node).
Over time, a primary cancerous tumor in the lung can break and spread to the adrenal glands through bloodstream or/and lymphatic system.
Secondary adrenal gland cancer due to metastasis of lung cancer is quite common. This metastatic cancer is usually caught on imaging tests such as ultrasound scan and CT scan.
Signs and symptoms of adrenal metastasis
Typically, patients with adrenal metastasis have a history of prior cancer symptoms. In this section, the prior cancer what we’re talking about is lung cancer.
Unfortunately, there are usually no early signs and symptoms. But since adrenal glands are essential to make some hormones, patient may experience too low levels of adrenal hormones. As a result, she /he may have some of the following symptoms:
- Lethargy (weakness and tiredness).
- Changes in weight, particularly weight loss with unknown reason.
- Stomach discomforts such as stomach aches.
- Or even faintness.
The adrenal hormones can drop significantly if both adrenal glands are affected by the cancer. This may also cause other symptoms such as low blood pressure, darkening skin, too low sodium in the blood, and too high potassium in the blood.
Symptoms related to the growth of cancer on /in the adrenal glands may also occur, these can be: