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What is the Connection Between Brain Lesions and Cancer?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A synchronized relationship exists between brain lesions and cancer elsewhere in the body. Medical studies have shown that cancer cells in the prostate, breasts, and lungs can often result in concurrent lesions in the brain due to the hematogenous spreading of malignant cells. Lesions can begin to metastasize in the brain within one to two months of initial onset of the primary cancer; lung and breast cancers are typically more likely to cause legions than prostate cancer, which usually doesn’t reach the brain until late term. Cerebral lesions often occur in multiples, with most patients having an average of five lesions. Many surgeons believe that controlling these lesions is the key to extending life expectancy for patients suffering from various cancers.

Several treatment procedures can be effective for the cerebral lesions. Lesions are most often removed through gamma knife radiosurgery. Chemotherapy, excision, and radiation are alternative options for both brain lesions and cancer depending on the number and size of lesions. A combination of two treatments might be used consistently over a two- to four-week period for aggressive lesions and cancers, especially if there is a history of recurrence.

Once initial lesions are removed, new lesions can appear in new locations in 15 percent of patients, studies show. Recurring lesions in the same location often appear in up to 30 percent of patients, reducing the survival rate. According to medical follow-up surveys of afflicted patients, the survival rate of most people with brain lesions and cancer that cannot be successfully removed averages one year after diagnosis. That rate is dependent on how robust the extracranial cancer is and to what extent it has responded to treatments.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans are the typical means through which patients discover they have brain lesions. Occasionally, this is discovered by chance when tests are being taken for other ailments. Sometimes seizures, headaches, learning disorders and memory loss can signal the presence of brain lesions. The relationship between brain lesions and cancer may not occur simultaneously in some; some patients do not develop brain lesions until several years after they believe they’ve been in remission from cancer elsewhere in the body.

Not all instances of abnormal tissue in the brain indicate the dreaded brain lesions and cancer link. Some brain lesions are harmless or a result of past infections and physical injuries. Strokes, encephalitis, aneurysms, and hydrocephalus can also result in brain lesions. Patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) who suffer brain lesions may or may not have cancer; studies conflict on whether legions in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or HIV are parasitic infections or a rare form of cancer.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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