Brain and Spinal Metastatic Cancer

Contact Information

(608) 263-8500
(800) 323-8942

The UW Health Brain Tumor Center in Madison, Wisconsin provides comprehensive treatment for patients with brain tumors. Working in concert with the UW Carbone Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team sees more than 1,200 brain tumor patients annually with common as well as rare brain cancers.


What is metastatic cancer?


Metastatic tumors are also referred to as secondary tumors because they originate as cancer from another part of the body outside of the nervous system. When a tumor metastasizes, its cells travel from one part of the body to another. Metastasizing cells usually travel via the blood stream.


Metastatic brain and spinal cord tumors are increasing in frequency, in part because people are living longer and the chance of incidence increases with age.


Where do brain and spinal metastatic tumors originate?


Tumors in the breast, lung, skin (melanoma), colon and kidney are common points of origin (primary sites) for metastasis to brain to spinal cord. Sometimes the body successfully destroys the primary tumor but is not able to destroy the secondary tumor, in which case the primary site is unknown.


Lung tumors metastasize most quickly because blood travels directly from the lungs to the brain.




Metastatic tumor symptoms depend on tumor location. General symptoms for metastatic brain tumors include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Problems with balance
  • Seizures
  • Behavior, memory and personality changes

General symptoms for metastatic spinal tumors include:

  • Spinal pain or weakness
  • Changes in sensation in an arm or leg
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control

Brain and Spinal Cord Metastatic Cancer Treatment


Treatment plans are dependent upon the numbers of tumors, tumor location and the primary cancer. Physicians often first try to control the pressure exerted by tumors by prescribing steroids or other anti-swelling medications and will also determine if radiation therapy or surgery is the proper course.