Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Metastatic Brain Tumors

Metastatic brains tumors (also called secondary brain tumors) are the most common form of brain tumors. They arise from cancer cells that travel to the brain from another part of the body. Breast, lung, skin (melanoma), colon and kidney cancers most often spread (metastasize) to the brain.

  • When breast or kidney cancer spreads to the brain, it usually causes one tumor.
  • When lung, melanoma or colon cancer spreads to the brain, it often causes multiple tumors. This happens in about 80 percent of metastatic brain tumors.
  • Metastatic brain tumors are more common in middle-aged and elderly adults.

Most often, patients know they have cancer in the primary location. The brain metastasis is often found during a routine CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Sometimes it’s found after the brain tumor causes neurological symptoms. Less than 10 percent of metastatic brain tumors are diagnosed before the primary cancer. When that happens, further tests are done to determine where the cancer originated.

Symptoms of Metastatic Brain Tumors

Often metastatic brain tumors are found before they cause symptoms. Sometimes, patients may experience symptoms that prompt investigation, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination (being unbalanced, weakness on one side of the body)
  • Behavioral or cognitive changes

Specific symptoms depend on the location of the tumor in the brain.

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