A metastatic brain tumor is cancer that started in another part of the body and spread to the brain. Metastatic brain tumors occur in about one-fourth of all cancers that spread through the body. They are much more common than primary brain tumors (tumors that start in the brain) and occur in 10 - 30% of adult cancers.
Specific symptoms vary. The symptoms commonly seen with most types of metastatic brain tumor are those caused by increased pressure in the brain.
An examination shows brain and nervous system (neurologic) changes based on where the tumor is located in the brain. Signs of increased pressure in the skull are also common. Some tumors may not show signs until they are very large. Then, they cause a very quick decline in nervous system function.
Treatment depends on the size and type of the tumor, from where in the body it spread, and the patient's general health. The goals of treatment may be to relieve symptoms, improve functioning, or provide comfort. Radiation to the whole brain or to the lesion alone is often used to treat tumors that have spread to the brain, especially if there is more than one tumor.
Surgery may be used for metastatic brain tumors when there is a single tumor and the cancer hasn't spread to other parts of the body. Some tumors may be completely removed. Tumors that are deep or that extend into brain tissue may be debulked (reduced in size).
Surgery may reduce pressure and relieve symptoms in cases when the tumor cannot be removed. Chemotherapy for metastatic brain tumors is not as helpful as surgery or radiation. Stereotactic radiosurgery is used at some hospitals. This form of radiation therapy focuses high-powered x-rays on a small area of the brain.
When the cancer has spread, treatment may focus on relieving pain and other symptoms. This is called palliative or supportive care.
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