Brain Metastasis

Most of brain tumors don’t actually originate from the brain. Instead, they are metastatic tumors. They develop when cells from a cancer located elsewhere in the body migrate, or metastasize, to the brain. 20-40% of cancer patients develop metastatic brain tumors.

Metastatic tumors can cause difficult symptoms that contribute to a cancer patient’s already-fragile state of health. However, they can respond well to treatment, especially to radiation therapies.

What cancers are most likely to metastasize to the brain?

Metastatic brain tumors are most often caused by:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Thyroid cancer

However, any type of cancer can cause a metastatic tumor in the brain.

What are the symptoms of metastatic brain tumors?

The symptoms of metastatic brain tumors cause many of the same symptoms as primary brain tumors. This is because they have a similar impact on the brain: they press against healthy brain tissue and interfere with normal body functions.

Some of the symptoms of metastatic brain tumors include:

  • Headaches, particularly in the early morning
  • Problems with vision
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding language
  • Trouble balancing
  • Weakness on one side of the body

How are metastatic brain tumors treated?

The chief goal of treating metastatic tumors is to reduce their size and to relieve the patient’s symptoms.

Surgery for metastatic tumors

Usually, physicians may recommend surgery for metastatic tumors particularly if the tumor is large and if the tumor can be removed without causing additional harm to the patient. In addition, the patient’s primary cancer should be responding well to treatment.

Patients who undergo surgery for metastatic tumors often receive a craniotomy, a procedure in which the skull is opened so surgeons can access the brain.

The Washington University neurosurgeons at Siteman specialize in conducting minimally invasive procedures, such as keyhole craniotomies and laser interstitial thermal therapy, whenever possible. They are experts at bringing patients through the procedure successfully.

Learn more about surgery for brain tumors.

Radiation therapy for metastatic tumors

Radiation therapy can be an excellent option for patients with metastatic brain tumors. Certain types of radiation therapy known as “radiosurgery” can destroy tumors just as effectively as surgery without any of the associated risks.

Learn more about radiation therapy for brain tumors.