Brain Metastases

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Brain metastases, or cancer, travels from its site of origin to the brain via the bloodstream. This cancer begins in a different part of the body (most commonly the skin, breasts or lungs).

Symptoms of Cancer’s Spread

Doctors usually discover brain metastases during routine follow-ups for an existing cancer. Sometimes, however, cancer has already spread from another part of the body to the brain, and people experience these symptoms of brain metastases:

  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Weakness or loss of sensation on one side of the body

The sooner we can identify brain metastases, the more treatment options we can offer.

So if you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, talk to your doctor—especially if you or they has had cancer.

Treatment Options for Brain Metastases

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

If we find it early, before too many lesions have developed in too many places, we can treat brain metastases with Gamma Knife. This targeted delivery of radiation focuses solely on the brain tumors, causing little impact to the healthy brain and few side effects.

Whole Brain Radiation Therapy (WBRT)

If the tumors have become too large or the cancer has spread to multiple locations in the brain, the best treatment option may be WBRT, delivering radiation to the entire brain. This approach can reduce brain tumor symptoms and prolong life, but it can also cause neurotoxicity, which can lead to cognitive impairment — a result we can lessen with a more targeted approach and/or medication.


Surgical removal of a brain metastasis is sometimes required to relieve pressure on the brain and improve a patient’s symptoms from this pressure.

Diagnosis may require resection or removal of brain tissue; we also use targeted resection with computer guidance and intraoperative MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). 

A Team Approach to Brain Metastases

We collaborate with the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center to provide the attention necessary to these complex cancers. Our team includes neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, neuro-oncologists, social workers, neuropsychologists and palliative care providers. 

At the Forefront of Clinical Trial Research

As a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, UVA works on the front lines of research to study and develop new ways to treat brain cancer.

Through clinical trials, we make new treatment options available that can improve and prolong the life of people with brain metastases. 

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.