What is Brain metastasis, and what is the prognosis for life?

When a brain tumour metastasises, cancer cells from another organ (lung, kidney, skin, prostate, among others) have spread to the brain. For many patients, knowing this represents terrible news. So, they ask us: What is my prognosis for life with brain metastasis?

“Without any treatment, the prognosis for life is short, from three to six months. If the brain tumour is controlled or disappears with treatment, life expectancy increases to a year or more.” Doctor Marcos Vilca, a surgeon at the Gamma Knife Institute of the Pacific.

A decade ago, finding a brain metastasis meant that the average person’s life expectancy was no more than six months. Nowadays, things have changed. Survival rates have increased thanks to more effective treatments with fewer side effects. 

How long to live a patient with brain metastasis?

There is no doubt that brain metastases are one of the most feared complications of cancer. However, they represent significant mortality and morbidity in patients with advanced stages of cancer ( brain tumour grade 4 ).

It is impossible to know how long a patient with head metastases will live. In reality, this depends on multiple factors, such as those listed below 2 :

  • Systemic disease state
  • The extent of neurological deficit
  • The number of metastatic tumours in the brain
  • The type of the primary tumour
  • The nature, size, and invasiveness of the metastatic lesion
  • Gender, ethnicity, and age

The time elapsed between the first diagnosis of cancer and the brain tumour diagnosis is also a factor to consider. In general, those who develop brain metastases longer after diagnosis have a slightly higher survival rate than those whose cancer metastasises to the brain earlier.

Metastasis People with single brain metastasis who undergo effective treatment have a better chance of long-term survival than people with multiple metastatic tumours 4. 

Survival for head metastases is often measured in months, but some people may survive for several years. However, according to Dr Marcos Vilca, without any treatment, the “prognosis for life is short, from three to six months, no more. He adds that if the brain tumour is controlled or disappears with treatment, life expectancy increases to a year or more.”

Is metastasis in the brain curable?

The effectiveness of brain metastasis treatment is almost always determined by how well the primary cancer is controlled. Without control of the primary tumour, treating the brain tumour would be sterile. Therefore, careful coordination between the neurosurgeon, radiation oncologist, and primary cancer oncologist is essential.

Also, brain metastases often respond to therapy if diagnosed and treated early. This allows symptoms to be relieved, growth to be slowed, and even the brain tumour to be cured. Even if patients develop neurological problems, many manage to recover from them entirely. 

Surgery, radiotherapy, radiosurgery or a combination of these are the treatment of choice; in contrast, chemotherapy has little ability to penetrate the brain. Even in radiosurgery with Gamma Knife, Dr Vilca states that “the treatment can be repeated if the metastasis reappears, but as long as the primary tumour is controlled.”

It should be noted that the most appropriate treatment will depend on the size, number and location of the tumours, as well as the patient’s symptoms, general health and preferences.

Caring for a person with brain metastasis

Relieving the patient’s symptoms and side effects is vital to cancer care. Treatment of symptoms may continue even after treatment to cure or control the brain tumour has ended. 

Physiotherapy and speech therapy is especially helpful in regaining speech and motor skills. For example, anticonvulsants may be part of care to control seizures. Similarly, corticosteroids are used to reduce swelling and pressure in the brain.

On the other hand, recovery from a metastatic head tumour is impossible. The disease may be advanced or terminal if the tumour cannot be cured or controlled. Palliative care is palliative and improves the patient’s quality of life by reducing severe symptoms. This may include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, and emotional support.

Finally, it is necessary to state that the best person to discuss your life prognosis with is your doctor. He can estimate survival based on what he knows about you and your type of cancer. However, you should know that everyone responds differently to cancer and treatments.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery can control brain metastases in an outpatient session and achieve total control and maximum quality of life. Nor does it interfere with the application of other cancer treatments. For this reason, it is considered the reference treatment for brain injuries and disorders.