Kidney Cancer Metastasis to the Brain

Neurosurgeons looking at brain scan

While any type of cancer can potentially spread (metastasize) to the brain, kidney cancer - and more specifically, renal cell carcinoma - is one of the most common malignancies that cause metastatic brain tumors. Brain metastasis occurs when cancerous cells break away from the primary tumor, enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, travel to the brain and form a mass, usually in the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

Secondary brain tumors are five times more common than primary brain tumors, which originate in the brain. In some cases, a metastatic brain tumor is diagnosed before the primary cancer; in others, the brain tumor is diagnosed many years later.

Signs That Kidney Cancer Has Spread To The Brain

The signs of a metastatic brain tumor can be subtle and difficult to recognize, especially early on. Additionally, the symptoms can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Some patients experience neurological issues, such as:

  • Progressive headaches – A brain tumor can create pressure inside the skull or press on sensitive brain tissues. The resulting headaches, which may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting, are typically worse in the morning and improve as the day goes on.
  • Balance and coordination problems – A brain tumor may interfere with the normal flow of signals between the brain and the muscles, which can lead to muscle weakness, numbness and impaired motor function.
  • Seizures – A brain tumor may disrupt the normal connections between nerve cells in the brain, which can trigger a partial or general seizure. A seizure is a short burst of abnormal electrical activity that can result in uncontrollable twitching, shaking and other symptoms.
  • Difficulties with speech, vision or comprehension – Brain tumors that develop in the cerebral cortex—which controls many high-level functions—can interfere with language, memory, consciousness or sensory perception.

In some cases, the brain metastasis is discovered during the staging process for the primary kidney tumor; in others, it first becomes apparent in the results of a diagnostic test performed for an unrelated reason.

How Is Metastatic Brain Cancer Treated?

Treatment for kidney cancer that has spread to the brain can vary based on several factors, including the size, location and number of brain tumors as well as the patient’s cancer history and overall health. A full spectrum of the latest treatment options is available through the Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

A high-volume cancer center as well as an established leader of brain cancer treatment, Moffitt takes a multispecialty approach that leverages the combined expertise of our neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, neuroradiologists and other specialists, all of whom focus exclusively on brain tumors. Due in part to our extensive research efforts and unwavering commitment to improving brain cancer outcomes, Moffitt is recognized as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute, and we are the only cancer center based in Florida to have earned this prestigious distinction.

Medically reviewed by Peter Forsyth, MD, chair, Department of Neuro-Oncology.

If you would like to learn more about how kidney cancer spreads to the brain, you are encouraged to talk with a specialist at Moffitt. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. As Florida’s top cancer hospital, we are changing the model, and you can benefit from our extensive brain cancer expertise within one day.