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Metastatic Brain Tumors

What is a Metastatic Brain Tumor?

Brain metastases, also known as metastatic brain tumors or secondary brain tumors, are malignant (cancerous) tumors that start in another part of the body and spread (metastasize) to the brain. The cells in a metastatic tumor break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to spread to the brain. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, the metastatic tumor in the brain is made up of cancerous lung cells, not brain cells. Although almost any malignancy can metastasize to the brain, the most common cancers that spread to the brain are lung, breast, colon, and melanoma.

Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors – tumors that originate in the brain – and are often treatable.

UTHealth Houston Neurosciences neurosurgeon Krish Vigneswaran, MD, discusses how these brain tumors originate from other parts of the body, and how they are treated including combining chemotherapy, radiation oncology and surgery.

Causes of Metastatic Brain Tumors

While brain metastases are caused by the spread of cells from a tumor that forms elsewhere in the body, researchers are still unclear as to why some cancers spread to the brain and others do not. Metastatic brain tumors are more common in adults ages 50 to 70.

Early Signs of Brain Tumor and Diagnosis

Metastatic brain tumors are sometimes found when the primary cancer diagnosis is made. However, the symptoms of a brain tumor can also occur with other medical conditions, and a number of tests are necessary to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of metastatic brain tumor depend on the location of the tumor. They may include headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, seizures, double vision, drowsiness or lethargy, mood or personality changes, loss of motor function, weakness or numbness, speech difficulty, and/or memory loss. Some symptoms, such as headaches or a change in cognition, may appear slowly and worsen over time. Other signs, such as a seizure or loss of motor function, may appear suddenly. As a metastatic brain tumor begins to grow in an area of the brain or spinal cord, pressure increases on the tissue.

Diagnosis and staging of brain tumors may involve neurological exams of the eyes, vision, muscle strength, and reflexes; MRI and CT scans; position emission tomography; and biopsy of the tumor to remove a sample of tissue for pathological testing.


The standard treatment for brain tumors is surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and/or targeted therapies. Your treatment team will recommend the best treatment for metastatic brain tumor depending on the location of the tumor, whether it has spread in the brain, its grade, and your general health and fitness. At UTHealth Neurosciences you can expect the latest advancements in diagnosis and treatment, as well as access to international multicenter clinical trials.

Some tumors may require watchful waiting as neurologists and neurosurgeons track changes, while higher-grade tumors will require surgery and/or radiation and chemotherapy, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, targeted therapy that attacks cancer cells without harming normal cells, immunotherapy, or new types of treatments being tested in clinical trials.

Neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, radiation oncologists, and neuropathologists discuss cases in depth weekly at a tumor board review. Working as a team ensures that each patient benefits from the full spectrum of expertise and the best treatment options available, including new drug therapies and immunotherapies being tested in clinical trials.

Read more about brain tumor misconceptions and facts here »

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

At UTHealth Neurosciences, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, neuropathologists, and radiation oncologists work together to determine the care each patient needs, discussing treatment options as a group. This approach saves our patients time and money and allows our specialists to share each other’s insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes.

We first investigate options for nonsurgical treatment, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, our team works closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care plan. While you are with us, you can expect expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Clinical Trials

When conventional therapies prove unsuccessful, we provide our patients access to leading-edge clinical trials of investigational drugs and procedures.

View trials related to brain tumors here »

Brain Tumor Types

Acoustic neuroma
Arachnoid Cyst
Brain metastases
Choroid plexus tumor
Facts about brain tumors
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Germ cell tumor
Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)
Malignant meningioma
Pituitary adenoma and Cushing’s syndrome
Pituitary tumor
Skull base tumor

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.