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Brain metastases are also much more common. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people are diagnosed with a brain metastasis each year, compared to about 17,000 diagnoses for primary brain tumors.
The number of brain metastasis diagnoses has actually risen recently. Many doctors believe this is due to better early detection of brain metastases, as well as better treatments for primary cancers. As more people live longer with a primary cancer, the disease has more time to spread to the brain. This has led to a renewed focus on treating brain metastases.
Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the three most likely to do so are breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. Other cancers that often spread to the brain include colon cancer, gynecologic cancers and renal cell carcinoma.
A cancer can metastasize (or spread) to a single location or to multiple locations in the brain. It can also spread to the cerebrospinal fluid or to the leptomeninges, the outer lining of the brain and spinal cord. This type of metastasis is known as leptomeningeal disease (LMD), or leptomeningeal carcinomatosis.
Since LMD cancer cells float in the cerebrospinal fluid, they can quickly spread throughout the central nervous system. As a result, LMD has a poor prognosis.
Brain function and anatomy
The brain processes all our senses and is the starting point of our emotions and movements. It sends and receives messages throughout the body via the spinal cord and nerves in the head. The network of the brain and spinal cord is called the central nervous system (CNS).
The brain is protected by the skull, while the vertebrae of the spine protect the spinal cord. Extra protection is provided by a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds both the brain and the spinal cord.
The brain has four main parts:
Cerebrum: The cerebrum is outer and largest part of the brain. It has two halves that are called hemispheres. Each hemisphere has four lobes: a frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe and occipital lobe. The cerebrum is responsible for our senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch, as well as emotional reasoning language and movement.
Basal ganglia: These structures are found deeper inside the brain. They play a part in control of movement.
Cerebellum: This structure is at the back of the brain. It helps control and coordinate movement, such as walking and balance.
Brainstem: Located just in front of the cerebellum at the juncture of the cerebrum and the spinal cord, the brainstem relays sensory and motor messages between the cerebrum and the rest of the body. This small area is very important and even plays a life-supporting role in functions such as breathing and regulation of your heart rate.
Learn more about brain metastases:
Why choose MD Anderson for your brain metastasis treatment?
When a patient is diagnosed with a brain metastasis, treating that growth becomes a top priority. At MD Anderson, your case can be reviewed by our central nervous system metastases tumor board. This group includes physicians who specialize in primary cancers (the tumors that spread to the brain) as well as experts in neurosurgery, neuro-oncology, radiology and radiation oncology for the central nervous system.
Members of this team have spent decades treating patients with brain metastases. They often find ways to treat tumors that other care providers have declared untreatable. This combination of experience and expertise helps them deliver a personalized treatment plan offering the best possible outcome.
As a patient at a top-ranked cancer center, you will also benefit from advanced imaging techniques that can identify and track your brain metastasis over time. Your care may include some of the most advanced surgeries and therapies available. These include complex procedures many providers do not offer, such as awake craniotomies, which allow doctors to map the brain during surgery to avoid damaging vital spots.
You can also benefit from advanced treatments such as Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery, stereotactic radiosurgery to the spinal cord, image-guided radiation therapy and laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT). These treatments allow precise treatment of metastases while minimizing the effects on nearby healthy tissue. Doctors might also offer you the opportunity to participate in clinical trials that may not be available anywhere else.
And since brain metastases and their treatments can impact how you think and behave, we have experts who can evaluate symptoms related to your disease and help find ways to minimize those effects.
Usually going to a hospital is a bad feeling, but for me coming back to MD Anderson is a great feeling. It’s a feeling of security, that I’m getting the correct treatment.
Brain metastasis survivor