Medical Dictionary Search Engines

Please be patient! It may take up to ONE minute to load all the Engines.
Problems? Please contact our support.


Search For


Specialty Search




Other encyclopedia topics: A-Ag Ah-Ap Aq-Az B-Bk Bl-Bz C-Cg Ch-Co Cp-Cz D-Di Dj-Dz E-Ep Eq-Ez F G H-Hf Hg-Hz I-In Io-Iz J K L-Ln Lo-Lz M-Mf Mg-Mz N O P-Pl Pm-Pz Q R S-Sh Si-Sp Sq-Sz T-Tn To-Tz U V W X Y Z 0-9   

Metastatic brain tumor

Alternative names

Brain tumor - secondary; Brain tumor - metastatic; Cancer - brain tumor (secondary)


Metastatic brain tumor involves a mass of cancerous cells in the brain that have spread from another part of the body.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Metastatic (secondary) brain tumor occurs when there is a tumor in an area of the body, most commonly the lungs or the breast , and cells from that tumor break off, travel in the bloodstream (metastasize), and lodge in the brain. Other tumors that commonly spread to the brain include melanoma , kidney cancer , and germ cell tumors (such as testicular or ovarian cancers).

Tumors may be localized to a small area, invasive (spread to nearby areas), benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They can directly destroy brain cells, or they may indirectly damage cells by producing inflammation, compressing other parts of the brain as the tumor grows, inducing cerebral edema (brain swelling), and causing increased intracranial pressure (the pressure within the skull).

Classification of metastatic brain tumors depends on the exact site of the tumor within the brain, type of tissue involved, original location of the tumor, and other factors.

Metastatic brain tumors occur in about one-fourth of all cancers that metastasize (spread through the body). They are much more common than primary brain tumors . They occur in approximately 10-30% of adult cancers.


  • Headache
    • Recent onset of new type
    • Persistent
  • Vomiting , may or may not be accompanied by nausea
  • Personality changes
  • Emotional instability, rapid emotional changes
  • Intellectual decline
    • Memory loss
    • Calculating deficiencies
    • Impaired judgment
  • Seizures , new onset
  • Neurologic losses, one or more
    • Vision changes, double vision , decreased vision
    • Changes in sensation of a body area
    • Weakness of a body area
    • Speech difficulties
    • Decreased coordination , clumsiness , falls
  • Fever (sometimes)
  • Lethargy
  • General ill feeling ( malaise )
  • Eyes, pupils different size
Note: Specific symptoms vary. Symptoms commonly seen with most types of metastatic brain tumor are the symptoms caused by increased pressure in the brain.

Signs and tests

An examination reveals focal (localized) or general neurologic changes that are specific to the location of the tumor . Signs of increased intracranial pressure are also common. Some tumors may not show symptoms until they are very large; then they suddenly cause rapid neurologic decline. The original (primary) tumor may already be known, or it may be discovered after examination of tumor tissues from the brain indicates that it is a metastatic type of tumor.
  • A head CT scan or MRI of the head confirms the diagnosis of brain tumor and localizes the tumor.
  • Cerebral angiography is occasionally performed. It may show a space-occupying mass, which may or may not be highly vascular (filled with blood vessels).
  • A chest X-ray , mammogram , and other tests are performed to look for the original site of the tumor.
  • An EEG may reveal focal (localized) abnormalities.
  • An examination of tissue removed from the tumor during surgery or CT scan-guided biopsy is used to confirm the exact type of tumor. If the primary tumor can be located outside of the brain, the primary tumor is usually biopsied rather than the brain tumor.
  • A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is sometimes also performed to test the cerebral spinal fluid.


Treatment varies with the size and type of the tumor , the initial site of the tumor and the general health of the person. The goals of treatment may be relief of symptoms, improved functioning, or comfort.

Surgery may be used for metastatic brain tumors when there is a single lesion in some cancers and when there is no cancer elsewhere in the body. Some may be completely excised (removed). Tumors that are deep or that infiltrate brain tissue may be debulked (removal of much of the mass of the tumor to reduce its size).

Surgery may reduce intracranial pressure and relieve symptoms in cases when the tumor cannot be removed. Radiation therapy may be advised for tumors that are sensitive to radiation.

Medications may include the following:

  • Corticosteroids such as dexamethasone to reduce swelling of the brain
  • Osmotic diuretics such as urea or mannitol to reduce brain swelling
  • Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin to reduce seizures
  • Analgesics to control pain
  • Antacids or antihistamines to control stress ulcers
  • Chemotherapy
When multiple metastases (widespread cancer ) are discovered, treatment may focus primarily on relief of pain and other symptoms.

Comfort measures, safety measures, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other interventions may improve the quality of life. Legal advice may be helpful in forming advanced directives, such as power of attorney , in cases where continued physical or intellectual decline is likely.

Support Groups

Counseling, support groups, and similar measures can help people to cope with this disorder. See cancer - support group .

Expectations (prognosis)

In general, the probable outcome is fairly poor. Many people with metastatic brain tumors have widespread tumor metastasis. Death often occurs within 2 years.


  • Brain herniation (fatal)
  • Permanent, progressive, profound neurologic losses
  • Loss of ability to interact
  • Loss of ability to function or care for self

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if new, persistent headaches occur.

Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if seizures develop, or if there is the sudden development of stupor , vision changes, or speech impairment .


Early detection and treatment of primary tumors may prevent some metastatic brain tumors.

Update Date: 11/7/2002

Ezra E. W. Cohen, M.D., Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

©2009 [Privacy Policy] [Disclaimer]
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT