Brain metastasis

Specialty of Neurology

What is a brain metastasis?

A brain metastasis is a type of cancer that begins in any part of the body and spreads to the brain.

The types of cancers that occur most frequently and that develop metastases at the brain level are lung, breast, and genitourinary tract cancers. However, there are other types of cancer that rarely spread to the brain, such as colon or prostate cancer.

In other rare cases, a tumour can spread to the brain from an unknown location, in what is known as cancer of unknown primary origin.

What are the symptoms?

When metastasis occurs, the tumour appears in the brain and as it grows it causes inflammation and intracranial pressure.

The main symptoms of brain metastasis are reduced co-ordination or difficulty with special awareness, headache and fever, memory loss, weakness on one side of the body, and seizures.

Can it be prevented?

There are no known measures to prevent a brain tumour, but it is recommended to avoid unnecessary radiation, contact with chemical substances and carcinogens.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of brain metastasis depends on the type of tumour and its size, where it originated, and the patient's overall health. The main objectives of treatment are to relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life and well-being. The prognosis for brain metastasis is poor, but modern treatments are prolonging life expectancy, allowing patients to live for months or years, in some cases, after diagnosis.

Radiation is often used in the brain, especially if there is more than one tumour. Surgery can also be used when there is only one tumour and the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body or brain. While there are tumours that can be completely removed, others can only be reduced in size, which is known as cytoreduction.

Chemotherapy is rarely used in the treatment of brain metastatis, as is not as effective as surgery and radiation therapy (although some tumours do respond to it).

Surgical resection followed by stereotactic radiosurgery, which is a form of radiation therapy that focuses high-powered X-rays in one area of the brain, is also an option.

Medications are also taken to relieve symptoms.

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