Treating a Metastatic Brain Tumor

Radiologist looking at an MRI image of a head

A metastatic brain tumor can develop when a patient’s cancer spreads from another part of their body to their brain. While a diagnosis of a brain tumor can be overwhelming, there are treatment options available. Learn more about how metastatic brain cancer is diagnosed and treated from Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, providing outstanding care throughout northern New Jersey.

What Is a Metastatic Brain Tumor?

When a patient develops a form of primary cancer, such as cancer in their breast or lung, malignant cells can sometimes travel through their bloodstream or lymph system. This process is called metastasis, and it may happen even if the patient is undergoing treatment for primary cancer.

Metastatic brain tumors also are known as secondary brain tumors or brain metastases. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, metastatic brain tumors are one of the most common types of intracranial brain tumors.

What Are the Symptoms of a Metastatic Brain Tumor?

If a metastatic brain tumor is small or growing slowly, a patient may have no noticeable symptoms at first. Over time, however, they may exhibit the following signs:

  • Behavioral or personality changes
  • Difficulty hearing, speaking, or comprehending speech
  • Loss of coordination or difficulty walking
  • Clumsiness, trouble walking, or decreased coordination
  • Persistent headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body

These symptoms may vary based on where the tumor is in a patient’s brain, as well as how quickly it is growing.

How Are Brain Metastases Diagnosed?

Because some types of cancer appear more likely to spread to the brain, patients with cancer may need to undergo regular brain scans. In addition to a physical, several tests can help diagnose metastatic brain tumors, including:

  • Neurological exam: By checking a patient’s balance, coordination, hearing, and vision, a doctor can gain insight into which parts of the brain may be affected by a tumor.
  • Imaging: A computer tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can generate images that provide information about the size, location, and characteristics of a brain tumor.
  • Blood work: A blood test can check for secretions that indicate the presence of a tumor.
  • Biopsy: To confirm a diagnosis of metastatic brain cancer, a physician may collect a small amount of tissue from the tumor to examine it. A biopsy often is performed as part of a surgical procedure.

Treatment Options for Metastatic Brain Tumors

Treating a metastatic brain tumor requires careful coordination with a patient’s medical team since the patient usually is already being treated for their primary cancer. Often, brain metastases are treated with radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of the two. While chemotherapy is a common treatment for other forms of cancer, it has limited ability to penetrate the brain, so it is rarely used as a treatment for brain tumors.

Radiation treatment uses high-energy beams to kill or shrink tumor cells. A physician may recommend stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) for patients with just one or two brain tumors. If tumors have spread throughout the brain, whole-brain radiation therapy may be more effective, although it can cause more side effects and damage to healthy brain tissue.

Some patients with metastatic brain tumors can be treated with Gamma Knife surgery, Linac Accelerator, or Proton Therapy, all of which are noninvasive radiation treatment that targets tumors while better preserving brain tissue. All are outpatient procedures. While it can take several hours, the treatment is painless, and patients usually can return home the same day.

If a tumor can be safely removed without significantly affecting cognitive function, a patient may have a surgical procedure called a resection to remove the tumor. Depending on the size of a patient’s tumor, they may have a course of radiation treatment to shrink the metastases before undergoing brain tumor surgery.

Get Expert Care for Brain Tumors

At Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO), patients can receive compassionate care from an award-winning medical team that has experience treating every type of brain tumor. CNSO’s board-certified neurosurgeons, physiatrists, pain management doctors, and rehabilitation specialists collaborate to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient who walks through their doors.

With multiple locations throughout New Jersey and a multi-lingual physician team, CNSO enables patients to get the care they need close to home. To learn more about treatment options for metastatic brain cancer or to schedule an appointment, contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics
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