Brain Mets

Brain mets, or brain metastases, are cancer cells from tumors in various organs of the body that have spread to the brain. Metastatic tumors are among the most common mass lesions in the brain. An estimated 20% to 40% of all patients with cancer in the US have brain metastases.

In metastasis, cancer cells break away from where they first formed in primary cancer tumors. The cancer cells travel through the blood or lymph system and form new tumors called metastatic tumors in other parts of the body. The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the cancer in the primary tumor.

Brain mets can be referred to as secondary brain cancer or a metastatic brain tumor. Cancer can spread to any part of the brain, but the most common site of brain mets is the cerebrum (the largest and top part of the brain). It is less often that cancer spreads to the cerebellum and brain stem. The most common types of cancer that spread to the brain include:

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

Approximately 60% of patients who have brain metastasis have subacute symptoms, symptoms with recent onset or a somewhat rapid change. Symptoms of brain mets are typically related to the location of the tumor in a patient’s body. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Seizure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with memory and confusion
  • Incontinence
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Changes in behavior and personality

The following tests can be used to diagnose brain metastases:

  • Health history and physical exam
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Biopsy