Brain metastases: what are the symptoms?

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells spread from their original site to the brain. Any cancer can spread to the brain. But the types most likely to cause brain metastases are lung, breast, colon, kidney, and melanoma.

Brain metastases can form one or more tumors in the brain. When metastatic brain tumors grow, they create pressure on the surrounding brain tissue. Then they change how it works. This causes signs and symptoms, such as headaches, personality changes, memory loss, and seizures.

Treatment for people whose cancer has spread to the brain may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of treatments. Other treatments may be recommended in certain situations. Treatment often focuses on reducing pain and symptoms resulting from the cancer.

Symptoms of brain metastases

The signs and symptoms caused by brain metastases can vary depending on the location, size, and growth rate of the metastatic tumors.

Signs and symptoms of brain metastases include:

  • Headache, sometimes accompanied by vomiting or nausea
  • Mental changes, such as increased memory problems
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

When to consult a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs and symptoms that concern you. If you have ever been treated for cancer, tell your doctor about your medical history.

Causes of brain metastases

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells break away from their original location. Cells can travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and spread (metastasize) to the brain where they begin to multiply.

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Metastatic cancer that spreads from its original location is known as primary cancer. For example, cancer that has spread from the breast to the brain is called metastatic breast cancer, not brain cancer.

Risk factors for brain metastases

Any type of cancer can spread to the brain, but some types of cancer are more likely to cause brain metastases, including:

  • lung cancer
  • breast cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • Melanoma


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