University Of Tasmania

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Brain metastases: increasingly precision medicine - a narrative review

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 11:50 authored by Michael McKayMichael McKay

Objective: To broadly review the modern management of brain metastases.

Background: Brain metastases are the commonest neurological manifestation of cancer and a major cause of morbidity in cancer patients. Brain metastases are increasing in frequency, as a result of longer life expectancy of cancer patients, more sensitive methods for brain metastasis detection and an ageing population. The proportional incidence of brain metastases according to cancer of origin, from greatest to least, is lung cancer, melanoma, renal, breast and colorectal cancers. Patients with lung cancer and melanoma are most likely to have brain metastases at diagnosis. Brain metastases cause a variety of symptoms, depending on their size and location, whether they cause mass effect and oedema, compression of the brain parenchyma, or focal neurological deficits. The major differential diagnoses of brain metastases include primary tumours and vascular/inflammatory lesions. Prognosis is dependent on the site, number and volume of lesions, the patients' performance status, age and the activity and extent of extracranial disease.

Methods: English literature articles in PubMed from 1950 to June 2021 were reviewed. Article bibliographies provided further references.

Conclusions: Treatment of brain metastasis patients has moved from considering them as a homogenous population of patients, to individualised treatment. In those brain metastases patients of satisfactory performance status with a solitary lesion, especially one in a non-eloquent/accessible area causing significant mass effect and/or raised intracranial pressure or for whom the diagnosis is in doubt (histology needed), surgical resection is usually the treatment of choice. For multiple brain metastases, radiotherapy with or without systemic therapies are usually employed. For relatively fit patients with limited numbers of brain metastases (e.g., 4 or less), stereotactic radiosurgery is standard of care. Current clinical trials are testing the efficacy of stereotactic treatment alone for >4 brain metastases (although it is increasingly used for such patients in many centres) as well as integration of local therapies with targeted and immunological therapies in appropriately selected cases. In certain circumstances, cranial irradiation can be omitted.


Publication title

Annals of Translational Medicine










Tasmanian School of Medicine


AME Publishing Company

Place of publication

Hong Kong

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Treatment of human diseases and conditions