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Brain metastases are one of the most common adult brain tumors. As one of the nation’s top brain tumor programs, UCLA is often among the first to offer new therapies. Recent advances include adapting existing laser ablation technology to meet the unique needs of patients with brain metastases.
What Are Brain Metastases?
Metastatic brain tumors spread (metastasize) to your brain or spinal cord from cancers you already have in other organs. Metastatic brain tumors are just as common (if not more so) than tumors that start in your brain (primary brain tumors).
Many types of cancer can spread to your brain. The most common include:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Cancers affecting your blood cells and bone marrow (leukemia)
- Lung cancer
- Cancer of the lymph nodes (lymphoma)
- Skin cancer (melanoma)
What Causes Brain Metastases?
Metastatic brain tumors begin when a primary tumor spreads to your brain. Some researchers believe this happens when cells break away from the primary cancer site while that cancer is still in its early stages.
Brain Metastases Symptoms
Metastatic brain tumors cause a range of symptoms. Which ones you experience and how severely they affect your functioning depends on the tumor’s size and location.
Common metastatic brain tumor symptoms include:
- Chronic headache
- Speech problems
- Weakness or paralysis in your arms or legs
- Sudden surge in the electrical patterns in your brain (seizure)
- Behavior or personality changes
- Memory problems
- Unsteadiness and lack of coordination
Different types of brain tumors can cause similar symptoms. Some people experience symptoms similar to a brain tumor when in fact they are experiencing a central nervous system disorder, such as a stroke. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to visit the UCLA Neurology Clinic so you can receive an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosing Brain Metastases
You may receive one or more tests, including:
- Neurological exam: A neurological exam includes simple tests to assess your nerves, senses and mental state. This exam helps us rule out other problems, such as a stroke.
- Imaging tests: Our imaging experts have earned an international reputation for delivering the most innovative brain tumor imaging tests. Our tools include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) spectroscopy and positron emission tomography (PET). These tests give important information about the tumor’s biochemical makeup and growth rate.
- Advanced tissue analysis: Our team includes renowned neuropathologists who analyze the tumor tissue at the molecular level. This analysis helps us deliver an accurate diagnosis.
Learn more about diagnosis and imaging.
Brain Metastases Treatments Available at the UCLA Brain Tumor Center
You may receive one or more types of treatment:
- Radiation therapy: Advanced technologies, such as the Novalis Tx® Stereotactic Radiosurgery System, allow us to treat multiple tumors in the same procedure. Learn more about radiation oncology.
- Clinical trials: Our patients have some of the best outcomes, thanks in part to the research and clinical trials available at UCLA. These offerings include unique therapy combinations to fight brain metastases from primary breast cancer.
- Neurosurgery: Our advanced imaging and brain mapping capabilities allow us to pinpoint the precise location of tumors. Doing so helps us avoid disrupting healthy tissue during treatment. Learn more about our nationally ranked neurosurgery program.
- Medical management: Early treatments can help control symptoms, such as brain swelling or seizures. These treatments may include steroids or anti-seizure medications.
- Biologics: Biologic therapies (biologics) represent a promising new tool to fight cancer. Immunotherapy harnesses your body’s immune system. We offer the latest treatments, including targeted therapies, which work at a molecular level to block certain cell functions. Learn more about biologics.
From neuro-radiation oncologists to imaging specialists, your treatment is informed by some of the nation’s best minds in brain tumor care. Meet our team.