Brain Metastases: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: November 29, 2017

Brain metastases (mets) is cancer that has spread from one place in the body to the brain. Lung cancer cells that travel to the brain and form a tumor are brain metastases. The cells found in brain metastases look like cancer cells from the original tumor site. This is different from brain cancer that starts in the brain (called a primary brain tumor).

Risks

Your risk for brain mets is higher with some cancers, such as:

  • Lung
  • Melanoma
  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Kidney

You can only get brain mets when there is already cancer in your body. If you have cancer, and have symptoms of brain mets, your provider will order tests to look for brain mets.

Signs and Symptoms

Brain mets take up space in the brain, putting pressure on the area around it. The signs of brain mets are caused by the brain not being able to work well because of the pressure. These include:

  • Trouble with your memory or attention.
  • Change in behavior.
  • Change in how you walk and/or trouble with balance.
  • Change in your vision.
  • Having trouble finding words.
  • Headache.
  • Seizure.

Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider may order imaging tests, such as:

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • CT scan ("Cat Scan", a 3-D x-ray)

Treatment

  • Surgery – If you have one tumor in the brain, and the cancer in the rest of your body is under control, you may have surgery to remove the tumor.
  • Radiation – Radiation can be given to your whole brain to treat many, smaller mets. You can also have radiation to the mets only (not the whole brain) if there is only one or a few. There are many types of radiation used to treat brain mets.
  • Chemotherapy is not often used because it does not do a good job of getting into the brain. Some newer types of anti-cancer medications may work better and may be used.

This article is a basic guide to brain mets. You can learn more in All About Brain Metastases.

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