If Cancer Spreads to the Brain

About Brain Mets

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells spread from their original site to the brain. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the types most likely to cause brain metastases are lung, breast, colon, kidney and melanoma.

Up to 30% of patients who are diagnosed with cancer will have it spread to the brain. In the United States, approximately 200,000 new brain metastases are diagnosed each year.

Brain metastases may form one tumor or many tumors in the brain. As the metastatic brain tumors grow, they create pressure on and change the function of surrounding brain tissue. This may cause some of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Bladder control problems
  • Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
  • Difficulty in routine activities like reading and talking
  • Difficulty while walking
  • Headache – which does not subside from over the counter medications
  • Impaired coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Noticeable changes in senses like taste and smell
  • Weakness in the limbs, face, or one side of the body


Treatment for people whose cancer has spread to the brain may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of treatments. Other treatments might be recommended in certain situations. Treatment is often focused on reducing pain and symptoms resulting from the cancer.