Brain metastasis is cancer that started in another part of the body and spread to the brain. It’s sometimes called secondary brain cancer or a metastatic brain tumour. Brain metastasis is not the same as cancer that starts in the brain (called primary brain cancer). Brain metastases are much more common than primary brain cancer.

Some kinds of cancer are more likely to spread to the brain than others. The most common types of cancer that spread to the brain are:

  • lung
  • breast
  • melanoma
  • colon
  • kidney


Cancer can spread to any part of the brain. The most common site of brain metastases is the , which is the largest and top part of the brain. Less often, cancer spreads to the  and . Sometimes there is only a single brain tumour, but most people develop many brain metastases.

Cancer can also spread to the . This is called leptomeningeal metastasis or meningeal carcinomatosis.


The symptoms of brain metastases vary depending on which part of the brain is affected. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as brain metastases. See your doctor if you have these symptoms.

The most common symptom of brain metastasis is headache. Headaches may be caused by a tumour pressing on the brain, swelling (called ), bleeding or .

Other signs and symptoms of brain metastases include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • weakness or numbness in parts of the body, such as the face, arms or legs
  • problems with memory and confusion
  • changes in behaviour and personality
  • problems with balance and coordination
  • loss of bladder or bowel control (called incontinence)
  • problems with speech
  • problems with swallowing