Skip to main content

Brain Metastasis


What is brain metastasis?

Brain metastasis is cancer that has spread within your brain or spreads from your body to your brain. Some examples are lung, breast, skin, and colon cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of brain metastasis?

  • Headaches that get worse or keep coming back
  • Seizures
  • Problems walking, speaking, seeing, or thinking
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Swelling in your body

How is brain metastasis diagnosed?

Signs and symptoms of brain metastasis can look like other health conditions, such as a stroke. Your healthcare provider will ask how long you have had signs and symptoms. Tell him if you are being treated for cancer or if you have had cancer before.

  • A neurologic exam can show healthcare providers how your brain is working. Other names for this test include neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. Healthcare providers will check how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.
  • A CT or MRI may show the size and location of any tumors. You may be given contrast liquid help to help the tumors show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A PET scan uses a substance called tracer to help show injuries or diseases inside the brain, such as tumors.

How is brain metastasis treated?

You may choose treatments that help you maintain your normal activities for as long as possible. Other choices provide palliative (comfort) care to ease your symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about palliative care. Radiation and surgery may continue if you are receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment for cancer elsewhere in your body. You may also need any of the following:

  • Steroid medicine helps reduce swelling in the head and body.
  • Anticonvulsant medicine helps decrease or stop seizures.
  • Blood thinners help prevent blood clots. Blood thinners make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise.
  • Whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) is used to help treat brain tumors and to prevent new tumors from forming. WBRT can help you maintain your normal daily activities during treatment.
  • Surgery may be used if you have a single tumor. During surgery such as craniotomy, healthcare providers open your skull and remove the tumor. Surgery can quickly relieve vision loss or other problems if a tumor is affecting an area of the brain that controls vision, hearing, or movement.
  • Radiosurgery targets cancer cells without harming healthy brain tissue. You may need radiosurgery if you have more than one tumor or if you cannot have open surgery, such as craniotomy.

What can I do to manage the effects of brain metastasis?

  • Prevent infections. Cancer treatments make it easier to get infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you in case you do not have access to soap and water. Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu.
  • Treat pain. Tell your healthcare provider if you are in pain. If you need pain medicine, learn how, when, and how often to take it. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell healthcare providers if your pain does not decrease.
  • Stay safe. Cancer treatments can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drive.
  • Seek support from healthcare providers. The disease can change the way you act, think, and feel. Your memory, concentration, and ability to learn may decline. You may act without thinking or become more emotional. Talk with your healthcare provider about these changes and about continuing care, treatments, and home services. Go to all follow-up appointments.

When should I follow up with my healthcare provider?

Your healthcare provider may suggest tests such as an MRI or PET scan every 3 months. These tests help check for new or returning tumors. Work with your healthcare providers to create a follow-up care plan that is right for you.

Where can I find more information?

  • American Brain Tumor Association
    8550 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Suite 550
    Chicago , IL 60631
    Phone: 1- 800 - 886-2282
    Web Address:

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your leg or arm feels warm, tender, and painful. It may be swollen and red.
  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have new problems walking or moving one side of your body.
  • You have new or worsening headaches or body swelling.
  • You have a seizure.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Brain Metastasis

Associated drugs

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.