Lung Cancer Spread to Brain

Secondary or metastatic brain tumors start elsewhere in your body but later spread to the brain. One of the most common types of cancer that can spread to the brain is lung cancer. About 40% of people with lung cancer eventually develop brain tumors at some stage. It is therefore important to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment options for lung cancer that spread to brain.

How Does Lung Cancer Spread to Brain?

The term used for lung cancer that spreads to the brain is “lung cancer metastatic to the brain”. It is different form brain cancer that develops within the tissues of the brain. When you have lung cancer metastatic to the brain, the cancer cells break off from the tumor in the lung and enter your bloodstream or spread through lymphatic system into the brain.

Metastases usually appear at the junction of white matter and gray matter, which are types of brain tissue. The junction contains several blood vessels and is often very narrow. Those broken-off cancer cells may lodge here and affects neurons contained in gray matter. On the other hand, white matter contains axons that help neurons connect to one another. What it means is that computational thinking occurs in gray matter, whereas white matter helps facilitate communication between groups of cell in the brain. A tumor appearing in this area will affect those functions.

Tumors can also appear in the cerebral cortex and affect high-level functions such as memory, consciousness, sensory perception, and language. If these cancer cells grow in the cerebellum, it affects voluntary muscle movements and coordination. There may be a decline in functions such as swallowing, visual coordination, and balance when metastatic tumors grow in the brain stem.

Symptom of Lung Cancer Spread to the Brain

Now you have some information about “How does lung cancer spread to brain?”you may also want to know about the symptoms associated with lung cancer that spreads to the brain. What symptoms you experience usually depends on the location of the tumor and your general health status. It is important to understand that about a third of people with brain metastases experience no symptoms whatsoever.

However, some patients do experience symptoms such as headaches, loss of balance, difficulty walking, seizures, loss of coordination, nausea, speech problems, memory loss, fatigue, and personality or behavior changes. Some patients also experience vision changes with gradual loss of sensation in a leg or an arm.

How Is Lung Cancer Spread to the Brain Diagnosed?

If you experience symptom related to lung cancer spread to brain, your doctor may order certain tests to make a diagnosis, including:

  • Lab studies: Laboratory investigations usually include blood tests, such as electrolyte panel, CBC, liver function panel, and coagulation screen.
  • Imaging studies: Several types of imaging tests are now available, including chest radiography, positron emission tomography (PET), computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help get information about the effects of tumor in the brain and nearby structures. PET scans are especially beneficial because they help get information about actively growing cancer cells.
  • In addition, your doctor may also ask for a biopsy to study the cancerous cells in the brain. They usually do this when it becomes difficult to confirm where the cancer began.

Treatment Options for Lung Cancer Spread to Brain

Treatment for lung cancer spread to the brain depends on the type and size of the tumor. The general health of a patient and the initial site of the tumor are other factors that help determine the best treatment options. The main goal of treatment is to help you find some relief from symptoms and improve functioning.

Medications

Your doctor will prescribe different medications to help you deal with the symptoms of lung cancer spread to brain. The medications include corticosteroids, pain medication, and anticonvulsants. They may also give you antihistamines or antacids to control stress ulcers and recommend osmotic diuretics to reduce brain swelling. Chemotherapy is also an option – your doctor may give you medications such as radio sensitizers after radiation treatments.

Surgery

Your doctor may recommend surgery when they find a single lesion and no cancer elsewhere in the body. Surgery involves removing the tumor completely, but sometimes, they are only debunked if they have infiltrated brain tissue. Surgery greatly helps relieve symptoms and proves more effective when combined with radiation therapy.

Your doctor may also recommend stereotactic radiotherapy, which is a form of surgery but involves giving a higher dose of radiation to specific areas in the brain. This may be a good choice for some patients because side effects are usually less severe as compared to whole-brain radiotherapy.

Life Expectancy of Those Diagnosed

It is important to understand that patients who have lung cancer spread to brain usually have a median survival of 4 months, after which 50% of patients die. However, people with a few metastases may live beyond this time. Moreover, the combination of safety measures, comfort measures, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other interventions greatly improve your quality of life.

 
 
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