Whole brain radiotherapy (RT) is frequently used to palliate symptoms in patients with brain metastases, but the palliative benefit to patients has not been well documented. We conducted a longitudinal observational prospective study of patients receiving standard RT (20 Gray (Gy)/5 fractions) for symptomatic brain metastases. End-points were observer rating of neurological symptoms, patient-rated symptoms, performance status, neurological functional status, cognitive function and quality of life (QOL). Median survival for the 75 patients was 86 days (95% confidence interval (CI): 65-101 days). At 1 month, 19% of patients showed an improvement or resolution of presenting symptoms, 23% were stable and 55% had progressed or died. Patient-rated symptoms were increased at 1 month in comparison to baseline data. Only 4 patients had an improved performance status and 22 were stable. Many patients with brain metastases have a short life expectancy and may not benefit from even short duration radiation schedules. Further effort is needed to optimise patient selection and tailor treatment appropriately.