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B-Aware Program

Have you been diagnosed with cancer?
You should and know the facts about brain metastases. Brain metastases are treatable, but early detection is critical. Know the signs.

Know The Facts - B is for Brain

More than one million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year. Approximately one-quarter of these individuals will develop metastatic brain tumors during the course of their illness. If you or a loved one have cancer B-Aware of the symptoms of brain metastasis and the available treatment options.

What is primary cancer?

Cancer can form in any organ or tissue in the body. The original tumor that forms is considered the primary cancer or primary tumor.

What is a metastasis, and how does it happen?

Metastasis means secondary cancerous growth formed by the movement of cancerous cells from a primary growth located elsewhere in the body. Cancer cells can break away from a primary tumor and enter the body’s bloodstream. This is the way in which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

When cancer cells spread and form a new tumor in a different organ, the new tumor is called a metastatic tumor. The cells in the metastatic tumor come from the original tumor. This means, for example, that if breast cancer spreads to the brain the metastatic tumor in the brain consists of cancerous breast cells (not brain cells). In this example, the tumor in the brain is metastatic breast cancer and not brain cancer.

Are certain primary cancers more likely than others to result in a brain metastasis?

Recent studies indicate that the most common origins of brain metastasis are cancers of the lung, breast, skin, kidney and colon.

What Symptoms to Look For

Like with most cancer diagnosis, early detection is key. Know the symptoms and talk to your oncologist about any abnormal changes that you experience.

Metastatic brain tumors present with the same symptoms as a primary brain tumor. This can include:

  • Vision changes such as double vision or partial blindness
  • Headaches possibly with nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in part of the body
  • Paralysis or difficulty moving any part of the body
  • Inability to walk
  • Difficulties with balance and an increased incidence of falls
  • Difficulty speaking, including slurring words or incoherent speech
  • Problems with mental acuity such as not being able to read or tell time
  • Seizure or convulsions

Though most of these symptoms are of gradual onset, severe episodes can also occur.

Treatment Options - What To Do

Just like with most cancers, early detection and diagnosis can improve treatment options and results. These options vary from patient to patient and primarily depend on location, type and extent of the disease.

What treatment options are available if I am diagnosed with a brain metastasis?

The good news is, just like many other cancers, a brain metastasis can be treated. Although radiation to the whole brain was the traditional treatment, today surgery and radiosurgery are often the treatment of choice – either alone or in combination with conventional radiation. Chemotherapy may also be used in selected cases.

Can I treat both my primary tumor and brain metastasis simultaneously or separately?

If there are tumors elsewhere in the body, the brain metastasis will normally be the top priority, both because brain metastasis is life threatening and because the treatment is different from and often incompatible with treatment of tumors elsewhere.

Do You Still Have Questions?

If you have questions about your specific care you should speak directly to your oncologist.

If you have general questions about cancer, Cleveland Clinic is here to help you get the cancer information you need. Please contact us via Cleveland Clinic's Cancer Answer Line toll-free 866.223.8100, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Two oncology clinical nurse specialists and their staff can provide information and answer questions about cancer. If desired, appointments can be scheduled with one of the expert physicians at Cleveland Clinic.

What do you want to do next?

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