When cancers spread, the general prognosis for the outcome of the disease is relatively poor. Treatment is much easier -- and is typically more effective -- on cancers in their earliest stages. More aggressive treatments, which can have serious negative side effects, are typically recommended by doctors for patients diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer in which metastasis has occurred (the cancer has spread).

Secondary cancers, which develop due to the spread of a different type of cancer, are commonly found in other areas of the body. For those diagnosed with extensive lung cancer, metastasis is more than likely to have occurred. The lymph nodes, liver, brain, bones and adrenal glands are common locations for secondary cancers to develop. Here is a closer look at how lung cancer spreads and triggers the development of secondary cancers in different areas of the body.

The lymph nodes

The lymph nodes in the chest area are frequently the first area to be affected by the spread of lung cancer. This is the only area of the body which lung cancer can spread to without metastasis being classified, because the lymph nodes can be affected in stages II and III of lung cancer. Typically, no symptoms arise when lung cancer spreads to the lymph nodes.


Symptoms generally don’t appear as the result of lung cancer spreading to the liver. Metastasis to this region of the body typically is discovered by diagnostic tests that reveal the spread of the disease. A condition known as jaundice can result from extensive secondary cancer development in the liver, causing the skin and eyes take on a yellow color. Abdominal ultrasounds, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans are all diagnostic tests which can detect if lung cancer has spread to the liver.


Many incidences of secondary cancers of the brain are the result of lung cancer metastasis. Lung cancer can spread to the brain in both small cell and non-small cell classifications of lung cancer. Some of the symptoms associated with the spread of lung cancer to the brain are headaches, dizziness, seizures and difficulty performing basic motor skills. Because of how quickly small cell lung cancer spreads, it’s not uncommon for a secondary cancer to begin developing in the brain before the original lung cancer is fully diagnosed.


The most commonly affected areas of the skeleton are the spine, ribs and pelvis. Often, one of the main symptoms of lung cancer metastasis to the bones is pain. A bone tumor can cause slight pain initially, but over time the pain gradually increases. When the spine is affected, symptoms may include tingling in the arms and legs due to spinal cord compression.

Adrenal Glands

Adrenal glands are small, hormone-producing glands which are located near the kidneys. Often, symptoms do not appear when the adrenal glands begin developing a secondary cancer, and the metastasis to this region of the body is usually detected through diagnostic tests. If the secondary cancer in the adrenal glands is fairly limited, surgery may be effective enough to make long-term survival more likely.