Metastatic brain tumour


Metastatic (or secondary) brain tumours develop when cancerous cells in another part of the body spread to the brain

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About brain metatases

Also called cerebral secondary brain tumours and brain metastases, metastatic brain tumours form when the cells of a primary cancer in another part of the body spread to the brain. Any cancer can metastasise (spread) to the brain but lung, skin, breast, colon and kidney cancer tend to be the main ones.

Brain metastases are the most common form of tumour in the brain. It is estimated that 20% to 40% of all patients diagnosed with cancer will develop secondary cancer in the brain, the most common types of cancers that result in secondary tumour of the brain are lung cancer, breast cancer, malignant melanoma, kidney cancer and colon cancer (in decreasing order of frequency).

The good news is, there are effective treatments that offer new hope and make it possible to experience a consistent and uncompromised quality of life.The number of patients who receive treatment for brain metastases is increasing every year. This is due to the many improvements in detection, diagnosis and treatment, and to the fact that patients live longer with their primary cancer.

Need to know

Your symptoms will often depend on the size, location and rate of growth of the metastatic brain tumour. Generally speaking, they might include

  • headaches possibly with nausea and vomiting
  • mental or memory problems
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • weakness or numbness on one side of your body or face

If your oncologist or neurosurgeon thinks you may have a metastatic brain tumour, they may recommend further tests. 

  • A neurological examination. This involves checking a number of things, like your vision and balance, to find out which part of your brain may be affected.
  • CT, MRI and PET scans. These imaging scans produce detailed images of your brain, helping us to spot tumours.
  • Biopsy. This is a surgical procedure to collect a small sample (biopsy) of the tumour. The sample is then looked at under a microscope to find out if is cancerous.

If you've been diagnosed with a metastatic brain tumour, your oncologist or neurosurgeon will explain your treatment options to you. These might include:

  • High-doses of corticosteroid medicine to reduce swelling around the tumour.
  • Radiosurgery (Gamma knife or CyberKnife) if the tumour is suitable. This destroys the tumour without the need for open surgery
  • Surgery to remove as much of the brain tumour as possible (if it's necessary and relatively safe to do so).
  • Standard radiation therapy to destroy tumour cells using high energy X-ray beams in daily sessions over a 3 week course of treatment.

Brain tumours can affect your vision, motor, speech and thinking skills. At HCA UK, we offer comprehensive rehabilitation therapy services, including occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy to help you manage the effects of brain tumours.

In Gamma Knife treatment side effects are rare. For example, the risk of brain injury leading to problems with memory and concentration is lower with radiosurgery than with Whole Brain Radiation Therapy (WBRT).

More than

250,000 patients

with brain metastases have been treated with Gamma Knife radiosurgery worldwide.

Treating brain metastases with Gamma Knife technology

Gamma Knife surgery doesn't require an incision or the hair to be shaved before the treatment. The key to the success of Gamma Knife radiosurgery is its unique ability to precisely deliver many individual beams of high intensity radiation, targeting even the smallest tumour with sub-millimetre precision. Each beam has a relatively low energy, so the radiation has virtually no effect on the healthy brain tissue it passes through.

At the focal point, however, all the beams converge to deliver a high dose of radiation that kills the cancer cells, even in deep-seated tumours with irregular shapes. Gamma Knife radiosurgery may be used as the primary treatment method or as a boost or adjunct to other treatments, such as WBRT or surgery.

Studies that examine the effectiveness of Gamma Knife radiosurgery show for any brain location on average

exceeds 85%

success rate for local tumour control rates – in which a specific tumour stops growing.

Our Metastatic brain tumour locations

SPECIALIST UNIT  London Neurosurgery Partnership

SPECIALIST UNIT London Neurosurgery Partnership

78 Harley Street W1G 7HJ London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London
London Bridge Hospital

London Bridge Hospital

27 Tooley Street SE1 2PR London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.