Metastatic brain cancer is a form of cancer which originates elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. Historically, brain metastases have been fatal in most cases, due to the delicacy involved in treating cancers of the brain. Advances in cancer treatment and neurosurgery have increased the rate of survival for people with metastatic brain cancer, but it is still a very serious diagnosis which requires prompt action for the best prognosis.
In order for cancer to travel to the brain, it must pass through the bloodstream. Lung cancers are especially prone to metastasizing to the brain, although other types of cancer including bladder and breast cancer may spread to the brain as well. Because the tumor originates elsewhere in the body, rather than in the brain itself, metastatic brain cancer is also sometimes referred to as “secondary brain cancer.” It is about 10 times more likely to develop metastatic brain cancer than it is for a tumor to arise in the brain independently.
People with metastatic brain cancer generally develop neurological symptoms, of a nature which can vary, depending on the location of the cancer. Slurred speech, confusion, poor coordination, memory loss, vision problems, and loss of speech can all occur with metastatic brain cancer. Patients who present with these symptoms will generally be asked to undergo medical imaging studies so that doctors can see what is going on inside the brain, and these studies will reveal the presence of a tumor.
There are several treatment approaches to metastatic brain cancer. In some cases, it is possible to remove the tumor, which will relieve pressure on the brain and reduce the risk of spreading. After surgery, the patient may undergo chemotherapy or radiation to kill rogue cancer cells. In other instances, surgery may not be an option, in which case targeted radiation therapy or whole brain radiation therapy will be used in an attempt to stop the tumor from growing.
Left untreated, metastatic brain cancer can be fatal in weeks. This cancer moves rapidly and aggressively, which is why it is important to see a doctor about neurological symptoms in the early stages, so that a tumor can be identified before it has had a chance to spread any further. People with cancer are often especially alert to the possibility of the spread of the cancer, and their routine medical checkups may include screening for the early signs of metastasis.