Brain metastases. Histology, multiplicity, surgery, and survival

Cancer. 1996 Oct 15;78(8):1781-8.


Background: With the advent of new therapies for metastatic carcinoma to the brain, patterns of intracranial disease and factors influencing survival become important considerations when examining potential treatment options.

Methods: The records of 729 patients with metastases to the brain treated during the period between 1973 to 1993 were reviewed.

Results: Primary tumor histologic type in order of descending frequency included nonsmall cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), breast carcinoma, small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC), malignant melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, gastrointestinal carcinoma, uterine/vulvar carcinoma, and unknown primary carcinoma. There were 384 patients (53%) with a single brain metastasis, which was encountered most commonly in patients with prostate carcinoma and least often in patients with SCLC. Multiple metastases were present in 345 patients (47%). The median duration from diagnosis to presentation with a brain metastasis was 12 months, ranging from 3 months for patients with NSCLC to 53 months for patients with breast carcinoma. The median duration from presentation with brain metastases to death was 4 months, ranging from 3 months for patients with SCLC to 13 months for patients with prostate carcinoma. Median survival from presentation with brain metastases to death was 5 months for patients with single lesions and 3 months for patients with multifocal disease (P = 0.0001). Median survival for patients with a single lesion was 11 months with surgery and 3 months without surgery (P = 0.0001). Surgery did not significantly influence survival in patients with multiple metastases.

Conclusions: Dissemination of systemic carcinoma to the brain continues to carry a poor prognosis. Knowledge of the metastatic patterns and limited survival associated with specific tumor types may be useful for guiding future therapeutic intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Brain Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors