What Is Metastatic Brain Cancer?

Metastatic brain cancer is a type of cancer that spreads to the brain after developing somewhere else in the body. For instance, cancerous cells that form in a lung, breast or kidney can sometimes enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and then travel to distant tissues and organs, including the brain. In fact, metastatic brain tumors are the most common type of brain tumors diagnosed in adults.

Usually, a metastatic brain tumor is made up of the same type of cancerous cells as the primary tumor (e.g., in the case of lung cancer that metastasizes to the brain, the cancerous cells that settle in the brain are still genetically lung cancer cells). However, metastatic tumors sometimes develop new mutations after they spread.

What are the symptoms of metastatic brain cancer?

While primary and metastatic brain cancers develop differently, both can produce the same symptoms. In general, the symptoms are related to the specific location of a tumor within the brain, rather than the cellular origin of the cancer. Some possible signs of a brain tumor include:

  • Seizures – A tumor can irritate the brain and cause its neurons to fire uncontrollably. This can result in abnormal body movements, such as twitching in one part of the face, spasms in one arm or leg, or convulsions throughout the entire body.
  • Numbness – If a tumor places pressure on the brain stem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord, it can cause a loss of sensation in the face or another part of the body, as well as balance and coordination problems.
  • Cognitive impairment – While a brain tumor can sometimes cause personality changes, the cognitive effects are usually far less radical, such as mild confusion or short-term memory issues.

A common misconception is that headaches are an early indication of a brain tumor. While it’s true that a very large brain tumor can potentially cause headaches, this symptom is usually not among the first to appear, and most headaches are the result of other, less serious conditions.

If you’d like to learn more about metastatic brain cancer, you can request an appointment with an oncologist in the Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.