Lung Metastasis, Colorectal Cancer Spreading to Lungs

Colorectal cancer that spreads to the lung, also called lung metastasis, is treated differently than cancer that originates in the lung. Colorectal cancer that spreads to the lung is often treated with surgical excision—usually with minimally invasive techniques—and sometimes in combination with chemotherapy.

Tailored Treatment for Lung Metastasis

In all cases of lung metastasis, the treatment protocol must be tailored to the individual patient. There are many different ways to combine treatment approaches depending on where the cancer is located, what other organs are involved, the patient’s overall health and other factors. There’s also a role for each patient’s individual preferences. 

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin’s take an interdisciplinary approach to treatment. When cases are reviewed during tumor board discussions by several different specialists, the result is the optimal treatment option for each patient.

Newer options of treating metastatic lung nodules may also include radiofrequency ablation (treatment through an electrically heated wire), cryotherapy (freezing treatment), or stereotactic (focused) radiation in addition to traditional options.

Future treatment options being investigated include an approach similar to that used with liver tumors, where chemotherapy is infused directly into the tumor. Such an approach may be beneficial for patients with multiple lung metastases.

Treating Nodules on the Lung

With lung metastasis, the treatment can depend on what the cancer is doing. If nodules appear on the lung of a colorectal cancer patient, those would be removed surgically, if possible, as a way to diagnose the problem and possibly cure it altogether.

Treatment will also vary depending on how many nodules appear. If there are only a few—four or five—then removing them surgically will help the patient’s survival down the road. If there are 10, 15 or more, the patient may benefit more from systemic chemotherapy than surgery.

Treating Blocked Windpipe

Colorectal cancer that has spread to the lung and is blocking the windpipe may be treated more like a primary lung cancer either by surgically removing the nodule itself or the lobe it’s in. If the tumor is causing bigger problems, treatment may include a surgical approach combined with chemotherapy. Radiation, while less common, may also be used to treat the cancer.

Treating Fluid Collections Around the Lungs

Patients may also develop fluid collections around the lung. These are treated primarily by giving patients chemotherapy and then draining those effusions. One way to drain them is to use a pleural catheter, where a small plastic tube is inserted into the chest and can be attached to a small disposable vacuum bottle. 

Fluid can be removed every day to allow the lung to stay expanded. This is done at home, and allows patients to start their chemotherapy right away.

Learn More

Patients with cancer that has spread to the lungs can also learn about advanced therapies through our Thoracic Cancer Program.


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Clinical Cancer Center, Froedtert Hospital 9200 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

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