When patients experience cancer in other areas of the body, such as the lungs, breast, skin or kidneys, that cancer may spread to the brain, a condition known as a metastatic brain tumor. The term can apply to a single tumor or multiple tumors, and the occurrence of these tumors is common enough that many cancer patients are tested for them before treatment for other identified malignancies. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a metastatic brain tumor, the brain tumor center at Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists (ANS) may be able to help.
What are the Symptoms?
Sometimes patients exhibit neurological symptoms as a result of a metastatic brain tumor. Others don’t find out they have the tumor until it’s accidentally discovered through MRI imaging. Some of the symptoms may include:
- Numbness in the limbs or face
- Vision problems
- Gradual changes in mood and/or personality
The symptoms vary depending on how large the tumor is and where it’s located in the brain. They also tend to worsen as the cancer progresses. As the tumor grows, for example, there’s more pressure inside the head as well as more fluid buildup, causing the patient to experience increased headaches and nausea.
How is it Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose a metastatic brain tumor, patients need CT or MRI scans. Most cancer patients have routine scans over the course of their treatment to detect metastases. If they have lung or kidney cancer and start to show signs of neurological symptoms, then doctors will order a scan of their brain.
The next step is usually a biopsy or tumor resection. A brain surgeon will remove a piece of tissue from the tumor and examine it to determine an exact diagnosis. If the brain tumor is the first to be found, it means there’s another cancer site somewhere in the body. Doctors will want to run additional tests to locate it.
How is it Treated?
There are several different treatment methods for metastatic brain tumors. A patient’s oncologist, radiation oncologist and neurosurgeon will work together to determine which approach is best. Treatment may call for a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Depending on the nature of the tumor(s), the brain surgeon may use any of these techniques to remove all or part of the tumor:
- Stereotactic surgery: This minimally invasive surgery removes a single large tumor without harming the rest of the brain. Done in combination with brain mapping and functional MRI scans, it is often performed while the patient is awake, so doctors can monitor movement, sensation and language ability.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: Also known as CyberKnife or Gamma knife surgery, this technique uses a high dose of radiation to target the tumor(s) and halt their growth.
- Open surgery: In open surgery, doctors remove the tumor, then administer radiation to prevent recurrence.
After treatment, doctors will review the results and decide how to best move forward. The patient may need additional treatment or want to enroll in a clinical trial.
Request an Appointment
Talk to a brain surgeon about your case by scheduling an appointment with Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists today. Thanks to innovative technology, metastatic brain tumors and their symptoms can usually be treated and give patients better short-term and long-term results.