Secondary brain cancer

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with secondary brain cancer, we can provide the information you need, from understanding the cancer itself, to choosing the right treatment, to finding support.

Secondary brain cancer is different from primary brain cancer. If you're not sure what the difference is or how it affects you, you can call our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700.

What you should know about secondary brain cancer

  • Secondary cancer of the brain is the presence of cancer cells in the brain that have spread from somewhere else in the body such as the lung, breast or bowel.
  • The main symptoms of secondary brain cancer include changes in your personality or intellect, weakness in your body, headaches and seizures.
  • Secondary brain cancer can be diagnosed by scans such as CT and MRI, biopsies and X-rays.
  • The main treatments for secondary brain cancer are radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

What is the brain?

The brain and spinal cord are known as the central nervous system. The brain controls all the functions in your body. Different areas of your brain control different areas of your body.

Like other organs, your brain is made up of cells. These are called neurons and are a type of nerve cell. These cells communicate within your brain and with parts of your body by sending nerve impulses or messages through your nervous system. In this way, your brain is connected to your entire body.

Your brain and spinal cord are covered and protected by three layers called the membranes. These separate your brain from your skull. Between two of the membranes is an area called the subarachnoid space. This space contains fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

What is secondary brain cancer?

Cancer that starts in the brain is called primary brain cancer. But cancer that spreads to your brain from somewhere else in your body is called secondary brain cancer. The primary cancer is where the cancer started, for example, breast, lung or bowel. Cancerous tumours are made up of millions of cancer cells. Sometimes these cells break up and travel through your bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of your body. When these cells build up to form another tumour somewhere else in your body, this is called a secondary cancer or metastases.

How common is secondary brain cancer?

It is hard to say how common secondary brain cancer is. But listed below are some of the main types of cancer that often spread to the brain:

Cancer publications

For booklets and factsheets, including information about cancer types, treatments, side-effects, emotional effects, financial information and more. Visit our publications section.