Brain Metastases: The Basics
Brain metastases (mets) is cancer that has spread from one place in the body to the brain. For example, lung cancer cells that travel from the lung to the brain are brain metastases. The cancer cells found in brain metastases look like cancer cells from the lung tumor. This is different from brain cancer that starts in the brain (called a primary brain tumor).
Your risk for brain mets is higher with some cancers, such as:
You can only get brain mets when there is already cancer in your body. If you have cancer and have symptoms, 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 this pressure. Signs of brain mets can be:
- Having trouble with your memory or attention.
- Change in behavior.
- Change in how you walk and/or having trouble with balance.
- Change in your vision.
- Having trouble finding words.
Your healthcare provider may order imaging tests, such as:
- 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 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 (targeted therapy and immunotherapy) may work better and may be used.
This article is a basic guide to brain mets. You can learn more in Brain Metastases: Staging and Treatment.
Amsbaugh MJ, Kim CS. Brain Metastasis. [Updated 2023 Apr 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470246/
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Metastatic Brain Tumors. Taken from https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Metastatic-Brain-Tumors