What is secondary brain tumors?

Malignant brain tumor (secondary): Overview

A secondary malignant brain tumor is cancer that has spread to the brain from another part of the body. This type of tumor is different from a brain tumor that began in the brain. Cancer that spreads to the brain is called by the name of the initial (primary) cancer. For example, lung cancer that spreads to the brain is called metastatic lung cancer.

These tumors usually grow quickly and can spread throughout the brain. As malignant brain tumors grow, they can harm important brain functions. Brain cancer can be deadly.

There are many types of malignant brain tumors. Treatment depends on where the cancer started, the type of tumor, and where it is in the brain. Treatment may include radiation, surgery, medicines (such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy), or a combination of these treatments.

What are the symptoms of secondary brain tumors?

Symptoms depend on the size and location of the tumors. Possible symptoms include headaches, seizures, weakness, balance problems, speech problems, memory problems, and personality or behavior changes.

How are secondary brain tumors treated?

Treatment is based on many things. These include the type of primary cancer, your overall health, and the number, size, and location of the tumor(s). The main treatments are surgery and radiation therapy. Radiation may include a very targeted, strong dose of radiation (stereotactic radiosurgery) or whole-brain radiation. Medicines may also be used.

How are secondary brain tumors diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your health. You'll probably have imaging tests, like an MRI, a CT scan, or a PET scan. The doctor may also check your brain and nerve function and vision. Sometimes a sample (biopsy) of the tumor is removed to confirm the diagnosis.

How can you care for yourself when you have a malignant brain tumor (secondary)?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions to relieve pain. Pain from cancer and surgery can almost always be controlled. Use pain medicine when you first notice pain, before it becomes severe.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that contains protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired.
  • Get enough sleep, and take time to do things you enjoy. This can help reduce stress.
  • Think about joining a support group. Or discuss your concerns with your doctor or a counselor.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

What are secondary brain tumors?

Secondary brain tumors are cancer that's spread to the brain from another part of the body. (Primary brain tumors are ones that started in the brain.) These tumors may also be called brain metastases or metastatic cancer. Cancers that commonly spread to the brain include lung, kidney, and colon cancer, and melanoma.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.