What is metastatic lung cancer?

Metastatic lung cancer means that the cancer has spread from where it started in the lung. It is also called advanced lung cancer.

Unfortunately advanced cancer can’t usually be cured. But treatment might control it, help symptoms, and improve your quality of life for some time.

A cancer might be advanced when it is first diagnosed. Or it may come back some time after you were first treated. This is called recurrent cancer.

Locally advanced lung cancer

Locally advanced cancer is cancer that has spread into tissues around the lungs and might have spread into nearby lymph nodes. It includes TNM stages 3A, 3B or 3C lung cancer.  

Where lung cancer spreads

A cancer that has spread to another part of the body is called a secondary cancer or metastasis. Not all lung cancers will spread. But if the cancer does spread there are certain parts of the body that it is more likely to go to. The most common areas for lung cancer to spread to are:

  • nearby lymph nodes or a single distant lymph node
  • the brain
  • bones
  • the liver
  • the adrenal glands (small hormone glands just above your kidney)
  • other parts of the lung or the other lung

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you


    Many people want to know what the outlook is and how their cancer will develop. This is different for each person. Your cancer specialist has all the information about you and your cancer. They're the best person to discuss this with.

    You can also talk to your specialist nurse.

    For information and support, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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