A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Metastatic Cancer Symptoms & Treatments

Metastatic cancer spreads from other sites of the body and can affect the brain. It requires treatment to prevent further damage and symptoms.

  • If your tumor presses on structures, you may experience symptoms.
  • Treatment includes surgery and radiation therapy or radiation alone.
  • Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy available in NJ.

Learning About Your Condition

Learning about your metastatic cancer is a powerful way to be more at ease through the diagnosis and treatment process. Dealing with an initial cancer diagnosis is difficult, and learning it has spread to the brain can be an emotional process. However, the steps you are taking to educate yourself can help give you peace of mind as you move beyond diagnosis and into treatment and, finally, recovery. To help you enhance your understanding, the following information discusses metastatic cancer, as well as symptoms and treatment options available in the tri-state area. You will also find some helpful resources at the end to assist you through all stages of your treatment.

Defining Metastatic Cancer

Metastatic cancer develops when cells from cancer somewhere in the body spread to another site. Metastatic brain cancers are not made up of cells native to the brain. Instead, they tend to spread from cancers within the lung, breast, kidney or other sites. If you are diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer, you may have one or more brain tumors. These tumors contain cells from the original site, which will influence the treatment path your doctor recommends.

You may have been aware of your primary cancer before your metastatic brain cancer diagnosis. However, some patients learn of their metastatic brain cancer first. Should this occur, your doctor will may order a biopsy to learn what type of cells make up your brain tumor. This information will help your doctors develop an appropriate treatment plan for your metastatic cancer, as well as your primary cancer of origin.

Metastatic Cancer Symptoms

Your metastatic cancer symptoms will depend on the structures impacted. Generally speaking, if your metastatic cancer puts pressure on a structure, that could lead to symptoms. Keep in mind not every patient will experience metastatic cancer symptoms. However, if you do, they could include the following.

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty with vision
  • Effects on language, including speech and comprehension
  • Memory deficits
  • Trouble focusing
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis and/or muscle weakness, which can lead to problems with movement

Metastatic Cancer Treatments

Following your diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment option for your individual case. The process will include imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, to evaluate how many tumors are present, as well as their size and location. Your doctor may also need to order a biopsy to determine the source of your metastatic cancer, as discussed above.

Generally speaking, there are three treatment options available to metastatic cancer patients in northern NJ. These include surgery, whole brain radiation therapy and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Your doctor may recommend radiation alone or a combination approach, depending on your specific condition. Learning about all three can help you during the treatment planning process, though your doctor will be the best person to explain which treatment path is most appropriate for you.

Surgery

Some patients will require surgical removal of all or part of their metastatic cancer. This may be the case if your tumor is very large, in an easily accessible location and/or is aggressive and requires immediate intervention. Surgery for metastatic brain cancer is always followed up with some form of radiation therapy to ensure all the cancer cells have been eliminated.

Metastatic brain cancer surgery takes place in a hospital while you are asleep. You can expect to spend about one week recovering in the hospital before returning home. Following your release, you will be placed on activity restrictions, including strenuous exercise and heavy lifting. These restrictions will be gradually lifted as your body heals and typically last 4-8 weeks.

Whole Brain Radiation Therapy

The traditional metastatic cancer treatment is whole brain radiation therapy. This is the cancer treatment most people are familiar with. During whole brain radiation therapy, the entire brain is treated with low doses of radiation. Patients undergo multiple sessions per week for many weeks. Because the entire brain is dosed, there are some unpleasant side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, headache and hair loss. However, whole brain radiation is an effective way to treat metastatic brain cancer.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

An advanced form of radiation therapy is Gamma Knife radiosurgery. In contrast to whole brain radiation, Gamma Knife radiosurgery uses nearly 200 individual beams of low dose radiation, delivering an effective dose to a highly precise area. As a result, your doctor is able to target just your metastatic tumor, sparing healthy surrounding structures. The cancer cells can be eliminated with fewer side effects than other radiation treatments and with fewer treatment sessions overall. In fact, many patients can be treated with one session, although some will require up to five.

Continue to Expand Your Knowledge

It is important you continue the conversation with your personal doctor, as he or she will be able to relate the information here to your individual condition. Learning as much as you can about your condition and upcoming metastatic cancer treatment can empower you as a patient, giving you confidence along the entire treatment path.

Continue to learn as you move forward in the process. In addition to speaking to your personal doctor, there are other resources available to help you learn about metastatic cancer:

Expanding your understanding and connecting with others are powerful tools to help set your mind at ease during this time. This can lead to peace of mind, allowing you to rest easier and focus your energy on healing your body when it needs it most.

Get Your Questions Answered, By a Real Person.

Our Patient Liaison is here to help you understand your next step. After discussing your specific case, she can help you navigate your medical records, answer insurance questions, and connect you with one of our nurses, at no charge to you.

We now offer the convenience of virtual consultations via computer and smartphone. To discuss your specific case with our Nurse Navigator, call 201-571-6494.