Brain metastasis refers to any clusters of malignant or cancerous cells that have spread from one part of the body up to the brain. Unfortunately, brain metastasis developing in patients that already have cancer is more common than developing certain cancers themselves, with about 170,000 people being diagnosed with brain metastasis. This outranked even lymphoma (79,030 cases), colon cancer (102,480 cases), and primary brain tumors (62,000 cases). Also, brain metastasis can develop in patients even after their original cancer treatment, with cases diagnosed months or years after treatment.

The good news is that treatments for cancer and brain metastasis has advanced over the years, providing hope and helping those that are battling cancer to live longer. Below, you can find more information about the symptoms and treatment options for those suffering from brain metastasis. You can also contact us at the Southeast Radiation Oncology Center to schedule an appointment, and our staff will be more than happy to discuss treatment options in more detail and answer any questions you may have. 

Is Brain Metastasis The Same As Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer is different from brain metastasis, since brain cancer originates in the brain. Brain metastasis is a different form of cancer that has spread from the body up to the brain. While any type of cancer can spread throughout the body, some of the most common cancers that can spread to the brain are breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma. In the case of a lung cancer patient developing brain metastasis, the patient does not have “brain cancer” but instead, lung cancer that has spread to the brain.

Learn more about Brain Metastasis:


Since brain metastasis can develop long after a patient’s original cancer treatment, it’s crucial to come to scheduled, regular follow-up visits with a doctor. During these appointments, the doctor will run exams and scans to check for any signs of cancer, and will be able to properly diagnose if brain metastasis has developed. It’s possible for some cases of brain metastasis to show no obvious symptoms, but possible symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred Or Double Vision
  • Memory And/Or Personality Changes
  • Speech Changes
  • Numbness Or A Weakness In Part Of Your Body
  • Problems With Balance

If a cancer patient that is undergoing treatment or received treatment in the past notices any of these symptoms, the best course of action is to call a doctor immediately. These symptoms can also indicate other health issues that may need immediate medical attention.

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Treatment for brain metastasis can control symptoms and improve quality of life. In most cases, patients with metastasis will not be "cured" of their cancer, but treatment will help patients to live longer with their cancer. The duration of survival time will depend on where the original cancer came from, where else it has spread and how well it responds to treatments rather than on the actual number of brain metastasis. Available treatments include: 

  • Radiation Therapy - Also called radiotherapy, is effective for treating some brain metastases. Unlike chemotherapy, radiation therapy's effectiveness is not limited by the blood brain barrier and can penetrate the brain to kill cancer cells.
  • Surgery - this treatment method can help manage symptoms, such as relieving pressure in the brain. Surgery also helps doctors confirm that the tumors in the brain are really brain metastasis. Surgery is often considered if you have a single brain metastasis.
  • Chemotherapy - This method uses medication to kill the cancer cells. Traditionally, chemotherapy has a limited role in treating brain metastasis due to the blood-brain barrier, which restricts what can travel from the blood into the brain, and prevents many chemotherapy drugs from entering the brain. However, newer drugs may be able to pass through this blood brain barrier to help control the brain metastasis.

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External beam radiation therapy is safe and effective treatment method that can be used to treat many types of cancer, including brain metastasis. The treatment only lasts for a few minutes and is painless, using a beam of radiation that targets cancer cells and eliminates them.

For cases of brain metastasis, patients meet with their doctor before to create a personalized treatment plan that outlines a treatment schedule and what areas of the brain need to be treated. Depending on each case, the doctor may suggest beam radiation treatment for the whole brain, or single high-dose radiation treatment called stereotactic radiosurgery that targets a small part of the brain. It’s also possible for these treatment options to be used together to improve results.

Before beginning external beam radiation therapy for brain metastasis, patients will schedule an initial appointment with the doctor to outline a treatment schedule, and review what areas of the brain are going to be treated using which methods. This mapping of treatment areas is done through a process called “simulation”, which involves using x-rays and/or a CT scan to see where the brain metastasis is located. Usually, a plastic custom mask is made to keep you in position during treatment.

Dr. Huang and our team also have access to Alaska’s only state-of-the-art, frameless stereotactic radiosurgery system, the The Alaska CyberKnife Center at Providence Cancer Center, in order to provide our patients with the treatment that they need.

Possible Side Effects From Radiation Treatment

Ask your radiation oncologist about what you can expect and what the risks and benefits of each treatment are. Side effects are different for everyone. The radiation oncology team will follow you closely during treatment and ask you and your family members about any symptoms.

Please do not delay in talking to us about any side effects or concerns about treatments. We want to help you and your caregivers to be as comfortable as possible.

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If you or someone you know is suffering from brain metastasis or is fighting any type of cancer, contact us at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center here in Juneau, AK. Dr. Huang and our professional, caring staff are committed to providing the highest quality care to all of our patients, using state-of-the-art radiation therapy technology and treatments.

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Download a helpful brochure from www.rtanswers.org

*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org, and the American Cancer Society.

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