Metastatic disease is cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another. Brain metastases are the most common type of brain tumours and can occur in one or many locations in the brain. They are commonly associated with certain cancers such as those of the lung, skin, breast, kidney and colon, and are the most frequently occurring brain cancer in adults.
Metastatic tumours increase pressure on surrounding brain tissue by accumulating fluid and growing in size. This can lead to symptoms such as headache, vomiting and seizures. You may have cognitive problems (personality, behaviour and memory problems), and weakness in a part of the body depending on the location of the metastasis. Symptoms of the original tumour may already be present, but occasionally the metastatic tumour is identified before the primary tumour, aiding in its location.
Metastatic brain tumours are diagnosed with imaging studies such as a CT or MRI. The tests may be ordered when you experience symptoms of a brain or spinal cord tumour or as part of the protocol if the primary cancer is already diagnosed. A biopsy (sample of the cancer tissue is removed and examined) may be ordered to confirm on the diagnosis. If the primary cancer is unknown, the knowledge of the metastatic cell type may assist your doctor in finding its primary location through appropriate blood tests and imaging studies.
Your doctor will decide treatment based on the status of your primary cancer, your general health, and the number, size and location of the metastatic lesions. You will be provided medication to control symptoms such as seizures or brain swelling. Treatment usually includes a combination of surgery, and focused or whole brain radiation. Chemotherapy may occasionally be recommended depending on your situation.