Metastatic brain cancer is also known as secondary brain cancer. It occurs when cancer forms in another part of the body – the primary tumor site – and spreads to the brain through the bloodstream. One or more tumors, or brain metastases, then develop in the brain.
In recent years, the incidence of metastatic brain cancer has increased. This is because people are living longer thanks to more effective treatments for primary cancer. The exact incidence of metastatic brain tumors is not known, but is estimated that 20 to 40% of patients with cancer will develop brain or spinal metastasis.
Learn more about brain tumor types, including the difference between primary and secondary tumors.
Here at Henry Ford, our Hermelin Brain Tumor Center offers a dedicated program for those who have cancer that has metastasized to the brain, spine or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a fluid made in the brain that circulates around the brain and spine. These tumors have been difficult to treat in the past, but new therapy options are providing hope.
How metastatic brain cancer forms
Regardless of where a primary cancerous tumor originates, tumor cells can break off and travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body, including the brain or spine.
While many types of primary cancer can form brain and/or spine metastases, the most common include:
Leading the way on metastatic brain cancer treatment
The Hermelin Brain Tumor Center has a multidisciplinary brain and spinal tumor board that creates a personalized treatment plan for each patient. Each patient’s tumor is screened to find the targeted drugs that will work best for them, and all patients are considered for novel surgical and/or radiation techniques and clinical trials.
Members of our brain metastasis program led the development of the first evidence-based, multidisciplinary national guidelines for metastatic brain tumor treatment.
The guidelines were developed in collaboration with a nationwide team of experts in neurosurgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology and neuro-oncology.
Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery and novel drug therapies, as well as combinations of these treatments.
Recommended treatment options have been adopted by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, two of the largest organizations in neurosurgery.
Advanced treatment options for metastatic brain tumors
We want to ensure the best possible outcome and optimal quality of life for our patients. As part of your personalized treatment plan, your metastatic brain tumor specialist may suggest one or more of the following treatment options:
We are passionate about making brain tumor surgery as safe as possible. Our experts have extensive experience treating complex cases and will tailor the surgical treatment to your particular tumor. We take advantage of cutting-edge technologies to maximize benefit and reduce risk. We offer a variety of surgical options including:
Laser Ablation - Also called Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy or LITT, – this surgery gets rid of targeted tumor tissue using a minimally invasive technique (as opposed to a more traditional surgery). Laser ablation allows most patients to resume important medications and cancer treatments sooner and requires less time in the hospital. Our neurosurgeons are world-renowned experts in treating brain tumors with LITT technology.
Intraoperative MRI - Using an MRI, this equipment provides real-time, high-resolution scans during brain surgery. Through innovative surgical technologies such as this, we can more precisely identify your tumor and its relation to your vital brain centers, such as those that control speech, sensation, strength and vision.
Robotic surgery - this is a type of minimally invasive surgery that features a robot-assisted, high-resolution camera to enhance visualization during brain surgery.
Our radiation oncology experts are leaders in their field. Radiation uses beams of intense energy aimed at a patient’s tumor, damaging the cancer cells and preventing additional tumor growth. There are multiple techniques used in radiation, including:
Radiosurgery - This non-invasive technique allows us to match the shape and size of the tumor from all angles, shape the radiation beam to deliver different levels of radiation intensity and protect healthy tissue during radiation treatment. One of the state-of-the-art systems we use in radiosurgery is called the Edge radiosurgery system, and we were the first hospital in North America to offer it to our patients.
Surgically targeted radiation therapy/Gamma Tile® - This new, safe and effective type of localized radiation is delivered where and when it is needed the most – at the brain tumor site, immediately after tumor removal. Radiation is embedded into a collagen sponge and encapsulated in titanium. It allows patients to go about their daily life while undergoing treatment, and minimizes some radiation side effects, including hair loss. We were the first in Michigan to offer GammaTile ® treatment to our patients with brain tumors.
External Beam Radiation Therapy - Some patients need radiation to their entire brain, or to a large part of their spine. Using external beam radiation therapy, our specialists provide the latest techniques to reduce the potential for delayed side effects of radiation-especially memory impairment.
Significant advances have been made in medical treatments for brain metastasis, including precision medicine, or medications that target specific cancer mutations. Other treatments like immunotherapy, which take advantage of the body’s immune system to fight cancer, have come to the forefront in recent years. Our medical oncology staff has their finger on the pulse of these therapies. These treatments may be offered alone or in combination with surgery and radiation techniques
Metastatic brain tumor clinical trials: Clinical trials give physicians a better understanding of how metastatic brain tumors grow and allows them to develop new and more effective treatment options. Learn more about brain cancer clinical trials.
Metastatic Cancer: A Scary Diagnosis
Diane was shocked to learn she had lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. She was feeling a little unsteady and passed out while eating lunch one day. The next day, Henry Ford surgeons removed a golf-ball sized tumor from her brain, and she would find a highly experienced medical team that offered her hope.
You may be concerned about how metastatic cancer treatment will impact you. Our treatments are tailored to reduce the potential side effects of radiation on the brain. If you have side effects such as memory impairment or radiation necrosis we have a team of specialists that can evaluate your issues and offer a personalized treatment plan. Maintaining quality of life is an essential aspect of our treatments.
Your team of experts will review your personalized treatment plan with you and discuss possible side effects before treatment begins. We want you to make informed decisions about your care.
Please call 911 if you have an emergency or urgent medical question.
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