Skip to main content

Metastatic brain tumors are a type of cancer that have spread from another area of the body. Though a serious condition, the great news is that brain metastases treatment is highly effective.

The treatment plan your doctor develops for you depends on multiple factors, including the size and location of your tumor, any other health conditions you have, your age and the site of your primary cancer. As you learn about the different treatment options available, you will gain a better understanding of why your doctor makes certain recommendations.


Though effective in the treatment of other forms of cancer, chemotherapy is not a choice for brain metastases treatment. The reason lies in the anatomy of the brain. Chemotherapy uses medication to target and destroy cancer cells. However, the body has a natural defense system, known as the blood-brain barrier, that prevents substances (including medications) from entering the brain. This means that the chemotherapeutic medicine can not reach a brain tumor and is not a viable treatment option.

Whole Brain Radiation

Whole brain radiation therapy has long been the gold standard in brain metastases treatment because of its proven effectiveness. During whole brain radiation, the entire brain is treated with low doses of radiation over multiple sessions, shrinking the cancer over time.

Though effective, whole brain radiation can also lead to very unpleasant side effects, including nausea, headaches and memory and cognitive deficits. These side effects occur because the delivery of the radiation is to the entire brain, not just the tumor cells, and can affect healthy tissues along with the cancer.

Whole brain radiation is often used when a tumor is not easily reached via surgery or in patients who are not good candidates for surgery in general. Radiation therapy is also often combined with a surgical approach to ensure no tumor cells remain after the procedure.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Despite the name, stereotactic radiosurgery is not surgery at all. Rather, it is an emerging form of radiation therapy that some surgeons prefer for brain metastases treatment in certain patients, particularly those who have small, well-defined tumors that are easily targeted.

Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery uses a focused beam of radiation to target the tumor, sparing healthy brain tissue in the area. Gamma Knife delivers a focused and effective dose of radiation to disrupt and destroy the tumor in a single treatment session.

Because of its ability to direct treatment at only cancerous cells, as compared to whole brain radiation, stereotactic radiosurgery typically results in less unpleasant side effects. Though not all patients will be candidates, stereotactic radiosurgery is favored by many doctors over whole brain radiation when appropriate.

Open Surgery

For some patients, the first treatment approach will be surgery. Your doctor will only recommend a surgical approach if your tumor is accessible with low risk. There are two common scenarios for which your doctor will recommend open surgery:

  • Your diagnosis is unknown, and your surgeon needs to take a surgical biopsy to determine the origin of your brain tumor
  • Your tumor is too large to be treated with radiation alone

In the first scenario, the surgeon needs to understand more about your brain tumor to develop an appropriate treatment plan. When a surgeon does a biopsy, he takes a small sample of the cancer cells and sends it to a pathologist, who looks at the tissue under a microscope to determine the primary cancer type.

In the second scenario, your surgeon removes as much of the tumor as he can, and you follow that up with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy destroys any remaining cancer cells, which is important to prevent the tumor from growing back and requiring retreatment.

The Right Treatment for Each Patient

Every patient is different. The size and location of your brain tumor won’t be the same as the next patient’s. It may be made up of a different sort of tissue. In addition to your age and overall health, your medical history and any prescriptions you are taking come into play when determining the right treatment path for your condition.

The great thing is that there are multiple options available, and each is a highly effective brain metastases treatment. Because you are a unique individual, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment protocol based on what he believes will be the most effective option. It may be surgery, radiation or a combination approach – it varies on case-by-case basis.

Now that you have a better understanding of the brain metastases treatment options available, you may find that you have new questions. If that’s the case, be sure to bring them up with your doctor.

Use the information you have learned here today to further the discussion with your healthcare team regarding your treatment plan. By feeling informed and comfortable about your upcoming brain metastases treatment, you will find yourself more able to relax and focus on other things, such as your recovery following treatment.

brain tumor treatment