Metastatic brain tumors have spread to the brain from a cancer that has originated elsewhere in the body. Metastatic brain tumors most often have spread from the breast or lung. As patients live longer with their primary cancer, they have a higher likelihood of developing metastatic tumors in the brain. About 170,000 cases are diagnosed each year.

What causes metastatic tumors?

A tumor spreads, or metastasizes, when cells break off from the original tumor and travel through the bloodstream to another part of the body.

Who is affected?

Patients with existing cancer are at risk of developing a metastatic brain tumor. Tumors most likely to spread to the brain are those originating in the lung and breast. Melanoma, renal, gastrointestinal and pelvic cancer also commonly mestastasize to the brain.

What are the symptoms of metastatic tumors?

Headaches, memory loss, seizures and behavioral changes are the most common symptoms, resulting from increased pressure caused by the tumor’s rapid growth. As the tumor grows, loss of certain bodily functions may also occur.

How is a metastatic tumor diagnosed?

If a patient with cancer has symptoms that suggest that the cancer has spread to the brain, the patient’s physician will work with a team of specialists to confirm the diagnosis. A specialist will conduct a neurological examination, followed by CT scans and/or an MRI. These tests will help determine the size and location of the tumor. The diagnosis can be confirmed by a biopsy.

What treatments are available?

Brain tumor specialists today are capable of controlling metastatic brain tumors in 90 to 95 percent of their patients with a combination of surgery, implant therapy (radiation seeds) and stereotactic radiosurgery.

Treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • High-precision radiosurgery, including three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy and stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Image-guided neurosurgery
  • Interstitial brachytherapy (radiation seed implants)
  • Intraoperative MRI

What clinical trials are available?

The UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute has a history of active involvement in clinical trials relating to metastatic brain tumors.

  • Print This Page
  • Make an Appointment: Schedule Now
  • Sign up for our newsletter!
  • Hope Stories

    • Jerry’s Story: Spinal Tumor

      Jerry's Story: Spinal Tumor On an ordinary day in February 2009, John M. Tew, MD, got one of the true surprises of his career. He was seeing patients in his Mayfield Clinic office on the University of Cincinnati medical campus when an unexpected guest...
    • Troy’s Story: Proton Therapy for Brain Cancer

      Troy's Story: Proton Therapy for Brain Cancer Troy Witt, 65, a London, Kentucky resident and a self-proclaimed "country boy,” says he loves his family, fishing, woodworking and riding on his tractor. But all of these activities have been put on hold since spring 2016 when Witt’s...
    • Lynne’s Story: Brain Metastasis

      Lynne's Story: Brain MetastasisSemiretired and working part-time at a restaurant, Lynne knew something was amiss when she looked at the cash register and then struggled to make her hands produce the correct amount of change. Could she have suffered a stroke? Lynne pushed the...
    • Troy’s Testimonial: ‘Out of 5 Stars, They Get 6’

      Troy’s Testimonial: ‘Out of 5 Stars, They Get 6’ Troy Sheldon has something to say, and he’d like...
    • Bob’s Story: Recurrent Glioblastoma

      Bob's Story: Recurrent Glioblastoma Glioblastomas come back. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but they always come back. “That’s the...
    • Jim’s Story: Acromegaly / Pituitary Tumor

      Jim's Story: Acromegaly / Pituitary Tumor Four years later, Jim’s story just keeps getting better. Because four years after being treated for a pituitary tumor at the UC Brain Tumor Center, Jim continues to feel better and better. The size of his head has gone down....
    • Brian’s Story: Meningioma

      Brian's Story: Meningioma “Carefree” is the word Brian uses to describe his life back then. He was 39 years old, happily married and the father of three children under the age of 5. “Life was busy, but that felt normal,” he says, reflecting. “The only...