Overview

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells spread from their original site to the brain. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the types most likely to cause brain metastases are lung, breast, colon, kidney and melanoma.

Brain metastases may form one tumor or many tumors in the brain. As the metastatic brain tumors grow, they create pressure on and change the function of surrounding brain tissue. This causes signs and symptoms, such as headache, personality changes, memory loss and seizures.

Treatment for people whose cancer has spread to the brain may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of treatments. Other treatments might be recommended in certain situations. Treatment is often focused on reducing pain and symptoms resulting from the cancer.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms caused by brain metastases can vary based on the location, size and rate of growth of the metastatic tumors.

Signs and symptoms of brain metastases include:

  • Headache, sometimes with vomiting or nausea
  • Mental changes, such as increasing memory problems
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs and symptoms that concern you. If you've been treated for cancer in the past, tell your doctor about your medical history.

Causes

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells break away from their original location. The cells may travel through the bloodstream or the lymph system and spread (metastasize) to the brain where they begin to multiply.

Metastatic cancer that spreads from its original location is known by the name of the primary cancer. For example, cancer that has spread from the breast to the brain is called metastatic breast cancer, not brain cancer.

Risk factors

Any type of cancer can spread to the brain, but some types of cancer are more likely to cause brain metastases, including:

  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Melanoma

Brain metastases care at Mayo Clinic

Dec. 12, 2020
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