What Happens When Cancer Spreads to the Brain?
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer, you’ve probably heard the term “metastasis.” This refers to when cancer develops in one part of the body and then spreads to another part of the body (for example, when breast cancer spreads to the brain). This generally happens when cancer cells detach from the main tumor (the “primary tumor”), travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and then settle in another part of the body and begin growing there, as well (known as “metastatic tumors”). The metastatic tumors are usually composed of the same type of cancer cells as the primary tumor, although they might develop new mutations.
When cancer spreads from a different part of the body to the brain, the metastatic tumors are referred to as “brain metastases.” The brain is a relatively common location for metastasis to occur. In fact, one in four cancer patients experience brain metastasis. And, brain metastases are the most common type of brain tumor diagnosed among adults. Although any type of cancer can spread to the brain, brain metastases most often originate from cancer in the lungs, breasts, kidneys or colon.
What are the symptoms of brain metastases?
Brain metastases cause many of the same symptoms as tumors that originate in the brain, such as:
- Balance and coordination issues
- Headaches that are sometimes accompanied by nausea or vomiting
- Cognitive impairment, including confusion, memory loss and personality changes
Comprehensive treatment for brain metastases
Fortunately, brain metastases often respond favorably to treatment, especially if they’re diagnosed at an early stage. For diagnosis and treatment of brain metastases, you can feel confident turning to Moffitt Cancer Center. The experts in our Neuro-Oncology Program follow a comprehensive, individualized approach to treatment.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vogelbaum, Program Leader, Department of Neuro-Oncology.