Epidemiology of brain metastases and leptomeningeal disease

Neuro Oncol. 2021 Sep 1;23(9):1447-1456. doi: 10.1093/neuonc/noab101.


Brain metastases affect a significant percentage of patients with advanced extracranial malignancies. Yet, the incidence of brain metastases remains poorly described, largely due to limitations of population-based registries, a lack of mandated reporting of brain metastases to federal agencies, and historical difficulties with delineation of metastatic involvement of individual organs using claims data. However, in 2016, the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program released data relating to the presence vs absence of brain metastases at diagnosis of oncologic disease. In 2020, studies demonstrating the viability of utilizing claims data for identifying the presence of brain metastases, date of diagnosis of intracranial involvement, and initial treatment approach for brain metastases were published, facilitating epidemiologic investigations of brain metastases on a population-based level. Accordingly, in this review, we discuss the incidence, clinical presentation, prognosis, and management patterns of patients with brain metastases. Leptomeningeal disease is also discussed. Considerations regarding individual tumor types that commonly metastasize to the brain are provided.

Keywords: brain metastases; breast cancer; epidemiology; leptomeningeal disease; lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Meningeal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • SEER Program