Having a tumor in the brain and having brain cancer aren’t necessarily the same thing. More often than not, a brain tumor developed when cancer somewhere else, spread. Called metastatic brain tumors, they occur in about one-fourth of all cancers that travel through the body.
“One of the favorite organs of the body where cancers can spread to is the brain. And once in the brain these tumors tend to behave aggressively, they tend to grow fast and they tend to cause symptoms very quickly,” says Dr. Constance Mantz, radiation oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Tumors that originate in the brain are called primary tumors.
“There are some primary brain cancers that behave very indolently meaning that they don’t grow very fast, they don’t spread, they don’t misbehave in a very aggressive way. And we can treat those patients and they’re allowed to have years of life relatively symptom free. And other brain tumors behave very aggressively. But taken as a group I would tell you that metastatic cancers to the brain tend to have a somewhat worse outcome,” says Dr. Mantz.
Separating brain cancer from cancer in the brain makes a real difference. A biopsy is used to determine where the cancer came from- that lays the foundation for how it is treated.
“If we see evidence of cancer having to spread to the brain from a different organ, whatever treatment we offer for the brain metastasis, we still are prompted to take a look at the rest of the body. Because if it has traveled here there is a great likely it has traveled somewhere else in the body. And that discovery will inform subsequent decision for other types of therapies such as chemo therapy, radiation therapy, or perhaps surgery,” says Dr. Mantz.
Understanding the true origin of disease helps specialists deliver personal care and the best possible outcomes.