Brain metastases

Handb Clin Neurol. 2014:121:1143-57. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-7020-4088-7.00077-8.


Brain metastases are the most frequent neurological complication of cancer and the most common brain tumour type. Lung and breast cancers, and melanoma are responsible for up to three-quarters of metastatic brain lesions. Most patients exhibit either headache, seizures, focal deficits, cognitive or gait disorders, which severely impair the quality of life. Brain metastases are best demonstrated by MRI, which is sensitive but non-specific. The main differential diagnosis includes primary tumours, abscesses, vascular and inflammatory lesions. Overall prognosis is poor and depends on age, extent and activity of the systemic disease, number of brain metastases and performance status. In about half of the patients, especially those with widespread and uncontrolled systemic malignancy, death is heavily related to extra-neural lesions, and treatment of cerebral disease doesn't significantly improve survival. In such patients the aim is to improve or stabilize the neurological deficit and maintain quality of life. Corticosteroids and whole-brain radiotherapy usually fulfill this purpose. By contrast, patients with limited number of brain metastases, good performance status and controlled or limited systemic disease, may benefit from aggressive treatment as both quality of life and survival are primarily related to treatment of brain lesions. Several efficacious therapeutic options including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are available for these patients.

Keywords: brain metastases; cancer; chemotherapy; neurological complication; radiotherapy; surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods