A feature of advanced cancer is its movement to other parts of the body. Called metastatic or stage 4 cancer, different forms of disease tend to migrate to certain places.
“And one of the favorite organs of the body where cancers can spread to is the brain,” says Dr. Constantine Mantz, radiation oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
When a brain tumor is discovered, the first thing doctors do is determine its origin - whether it started in the brain, as brain cancer, or came from somewhere else.
“For example, we order an MRI on a patient, we see that there’s not just one tumor but there’s a number of them and they’re scattered throughout the brain- that typically represents a metastatic cancer. That’s one that has seeded the brain in a number of areas within it from some source outside of the brain,” says Dr. Mantz.
Why the brain? It has to do with our plumbing.
“The brain consumes about 25% of all the oxygen that our body takes in, and in order to consume that much oxygen to do all of its functioning and work its needs to have a pretty healthy blood supply. And in part because that really dense blood supply is a favorite place for metastasis,” says Dr. Mantz.
About a quarter of all cancers that spread through the body will go to the brain. Metastatic brain tumors are more common than tumors that actually start in the brain. Some of the most common forms are breast cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and kidney cancer.
Treating it can involve surgery and radiation. Advanced radiation techniques are helping patients by delivering precise, high dose radiation to hard to reach tumors.
“We will use specifically this stereotactic radiotherapy to treat challenging, difficult tumors in the brain, tumors that otherwise wrap themselves around critical structures that we want to avoid. Whereas in the recent years past we just could not offer a effective or safe treatment for them,” says Dr. Mantz.
As more in known about cancers and how they behave, doctors can find better ways to treat it or detect it in it’s earliest stage.