Brain metastases are cancer cells in the brain tissue that originate from malignant tumors outside the brain. They reach the head via blood, nerve water and lymph.
What are brain metastases?
Brain metastases are among the cancerous tumors that have developed in the brain tissue as metastases from other types of cancer. This means that brain metastases originate in another tumor that is not in the brain.
According to abbreviationfinder.org, the original tumor is also referred to as the primary tumor. This can release cancer cells, for example, into the blood or lymphatic system and thus spread them. Malignant cells can thus get into the brain, settle there and cause a brain metastasis to develop by multiplying.
In addition, tumor cells can be spread via the cerebrospinal fluid and thus reach the meninges in the brain or in the spinal cord canal. In general, the diagnosis of brain metastases is seen as a symptom that another tumor disease has already reached an advanced stage.
Brain metastases are caused by malignant tumors, which give rise to secondary tumors in the brain. In principle, every tumor has the ability to spread. However, about a quarter of these diseases are based on a causative bronchial carcinoma or lung cancer.
In addition, tumor types such as breast cancer, melanoma and kidney cancer often form metastases in the brain, so that brain metastases develop. Brain metastases can thus be clearly distinguished from a primary brain tumor, which has arisen directly from the brain tissue and has not spread into the brain from another tumor outside the brain.
In order to better research the cause of the brain metastases, a tissue sample is taken from the tumor. This is analyzed by a pathologist . It provides information about where the causative tumor for the brain metastases is located.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms caused by brain metastases can vary greatly. This can be explained by the fact that, depending on the specific localization of the brain metastases, different areas of the brain can be affected. Depending on this, those affected are also restricted in other functions. A general sign of possible brain metastases should always be unclear headaches.
Headaches that last a long time, occur again and again, are clearly felt in the morning after waking up or are generally felt when lying down can also indicate changes in the brain. It is also characteristic of pain caused by brain metastases that they often do not respond at all or only very poorly to conventional painkillers. Motor changes such as sudden clumsiness, problems with walking or similar should be clarified by a doctor.
Problems with the language can be of different nature: Sudden difficulties in finding the right words or a generally unclear pronunciation that has recently been identified can give the first indication of brain metastases. Since metastases usually increase in size, all symptoms that increase in extent should be examined quickly. This can be an indication that the brain metastases are demanding more space in the brain and the symptoms are increasing accordingly.
Diagnosis & History
If brain metastases are suspected, imaging methods are often used for diagnosis. Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging provide informative images of the affected region.
The course of the brain metastases is mostly independent of the further development of the primary tumor. However, the development of brain metastases worsens the prognosis for the original cancer. How long the survival time is depends on the number of metastases in the brain and the treatment.
In general, however, the prognosis is unfavorable. Without therapy, the patient usually only survives a few weeks. Radiation can extend survival to several months. Only in the case of brain metastases, which have arisen as a result of a tumor spreading to the testicles, does a combined therapy of radiation and chemotherapy promise a satisfactory outcome.
Brain metastases are a very serious disease, resulting in death in many patients. As a rule, the probability of survival also depends on the start of treatment, so that early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important for the further course of the disease and the complications. The increased pressure in the brain causes severe headaches.
These headaches often spread to other regions of the body and can also lead to feelings of pressure or pain there. The patient suffers from severe spasms and also from disorders of consciousness. Certain thought processes may be disturbed and it is not uncommon for a coordination disorder to occur. The everyday life and quality of life of the patient are significantly restricted by the brain metastases.
Brain metastases are treated with radiation therapy or surgery. There are no further complications during the treatment itself. However, it cannot be generally predicted whether the affected person will be completely healthy after treatment. Life expectancy may be reduced by brain metastases. Without treatment, the patient dies prematurely.
When should you go to the doctor?
A doctor’s visit is necessary as soon as the affected person notices any abnormalities inside the head. If you experience a headache, a pulling sensation in your head or pressure under the top of your skull, you should consult a doctor. If the hairline hurts, skin changes appear or there are attention problems, this should be examined. If the symptoms increase in scope or intensity, a doctor is needed. In the event of cramps, disorders of consciousness or a loss of consciousness, there is an urgent need for action.
A doctor should be consulted as soon as there is repeated flickering of the eyes or problems with vision. A doctor is also needed in the event of hearing loss or balance problems. If there are problems with speech or mobility, there is cause for concern. Difficulty sleeping, feeling generally unwell, or feeling ill should be evaluated and treated if they persist for several weeks.
A drop in usual performance levels, mood swings, or personality changes are considered unusual and should be investigated further. In the case of behavioral problems, memory disorders or orientation problems, a doctor is required. If the person concerned suffers from severe fatigue, irregularities in emotion regulation or coordination problems, this indicates discrepancies that should be investigated. Social withdrawal behavior, dizziness or signs of paralysis in the face must be examined by a doctor.
Treatment & Therapy
If brain metastases have been diagnosed, doctors from different disciplines usually work together. These include neurologists, neurosurgeons, oncologists, radiologists, and radiation oncologists. They are developing a treatment for the brain metastases and the original tumor.
The first step in treatment is usually the administration of potent corticosteroids, which counteract the symptoms of the edema. However, since the effect is not long-term, further therapeutic measures are initiated. In this way, the neurosurgeon can remove individual brain metastases with the help of a surgical procedure. This form of treatment is particularly useful if the cancer has not recurred over a long period of time.
Furthermore, an operation can only take place if the patient is in sufficient physical condition to do so. If a large number of brain metastases have been discovered, radiation therapy of the entire head is carried out. This is to alleviate the symptoms. Chemotherapy is given to cure the underlying disease.
Sometimes chemotherapy alone can be used for brain metastases. However, this is often used in combination with radiation therapy. In the case of chemotherapy, the type of cancer that has spread to the brain must be taken into account. Only in this way can the cytostatics effectively combat the brain metastases.
Outlook & Forecast
Brain metastases are the result of an existing cancer. The prognosis is therefore very different and depends on a wide variety of factors. These include the type of cancer, the duration and previous course, the general condition of the patient, the previous tolerability of the cancer therapy and the question of whether further metastases have occurred outside the brain.
As a rule, however, metastases of any kind mean that the prognosis worsens, since the cancer has already reached a high stage. Brain metastases in particular are critical because, depending on where they are located, they may no longer be able to be removed by surgery. The risks of damage to (vital) important functions would be too great. At best, surgical removal is possible, so that treatment can then be continued with chemotherapy or radiation. Frequently, however, these are only life-prolonging measures, and there is little chance of a complete cure.
Brain metastases also carry the risk of severe symptoms. Depending on the location and growth of the tumour, it can result in a range of different symptoms and malfunctions in the body, including speech and movement disorders, sensory failures or, in the worst case, impairment of the functions of vital organs. These can be very stressful and, in the worst case, life-threatening for those affected, which is why this factor also influences the prognosis of brain metastases.
There are no specific measures to prevent brain metastases. As with other forms of cancer, however, unnecessary radiation and contact with carcinogenic substances should be avoided. Furthermore, the risk of cancer can be reduced by a healthy lifestyle, a low-fat diet, regular exercise and avoiding alcohol and nicotine. This also reduces the risk of brain metastases.
In the case of brain metastases, those affected usually have no options or measures for aftercare. In most cases, the brain metastases cannot be treated completely, so that this disease always leads to a reduced life expectancy for those affected. The earlier this tumor is detected, the better the further course of the disease.
Therefore, a doctor should be consulted at the first symptoms or signs. Brain metastases can be treated by taking various medications. The affected person is dependent on the correct dosage and regular intake in order to treat the tumor correctly. If you have any questions or are unclear, you should always contact a doctor first.
The support and loving care of one’s own family and friends is also very important with this disease, as this can prevent psychological upsets or even depression. This is especially the case when chemotherapy is required. If an operation is to be carried out, the person concerned should definitely rest after the operation and take care of their body.
You can do that yourself
Brain metastases can have a direct impact on coping with everyday life. Many of those affected report symptoms that they can perceive directly and that sometimes have a negative impact on everyday life. Unfortunately, there is no way to rid yourself of brain metastases, so close monitoring and therapy prescribed by a doctor, such as chemotherapy, are necessary. However, there are many ways to make everyday life with brain metastases a little easier and safer.
Since, as with many illnesses, the psyche and psychological well-being also play a major role here, it is helpful to know that one or more people you trust are nearby if the problems can no longer be managed. Some tasks that were easy to master just a short time ago are now unsolvable problems.
Physical relief can bring measures that strengthen the immune system, which is often heavily burdened by chemotherapy, but these should also be chosen in close consultation with the doctor. Both dietary supplements and cures or psychological support are conceivable here.
If balance problems or dizzy spells occur, the person concerned should no longer leave the house alone, if possible, but only with an accompanying person. This can also provide important help when lifting and carrying, for example shopping. Suitable walking aids ensure more safety.