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Metastasis to Brain

< Brain and Spine Cancer

Understanding Brain Metastases

When cancer metastasizes, it means that it spreads to a different part of the body. Cancer can spread to multiple areas of the brain and form brain metastases, which are cancerous growths that can cause swelling. Brain metastases may be found at the same time as the primary cancer or later on. 

While any cancer can spread to the brain, brain metastases are often found with melanoma, lung cancer and breast cancer. Colon cancer and gynecologic cancers may also spread to the brain, forming brain metastases. 

Brain metastases often cause symptoms, but symptoms can vary depending on the size, location and number of growths. Brain metastases symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty seeing, hearing or swallowing
  • Emotional or behavioral changes
  • Headaches
  • Inability to move parts of the body
  • Issues with memory
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures

A patient’s oncology team can help determine whether the cancer has metastasized and whether brain metastases are present to determine the best care plan.

Leading-Edge Treatments for Brain Metastases

Radiation therapy helps manage brain metastases to prevent them from worsening and control symptoms. Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells. Whole-brain radiation can benefit people who have several brain metastases or meningitis (swelling in the brain’s lining). 

Radiation therapy is usually given in two ways: external and internal. External radiation therapy uses a source that is outside the body to deliver radiation to a precise location. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance that is sealed inside a needle, wire, catheter or “seeds” and placed directly into or near the affected area.

This thermal therapy may be used to address brain metastases, along with astrocytoma, gliomas and epilepsy. The AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute is one of only a handful of centers nationwide to offer this minimally invasive surgical technique. With the help of an intraoperative MRI, the designated tissue is heated via a laser probe’s light energy.

Surgery for brain metastases may be part of a patient’s care plan, especially if they have fewer than three brain metastases. This may involve an advanced, non-invasive procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery, which is actually a kind of radiation treatment that delivers precisely targeted radiation beams with no incisions involved.

Some medications may be used to help treat brain metastases but are not usually the primary treatment. Medication therapy might complement other therapies, like radiation. For example, steroid medications may be administered to reduce the swelling caused by brain metastases. In other cases, anti-seizure medicine may be given if a patient experiences a seizure related to brain metastases.