Metastatic

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

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