Brain Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideCancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

Cancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

What is metastatic brain cancer?

Cancer cells that develop in a body organ such as the lung (primary cancer tissue type) can spread via direct extension, or through the lymphatic system and/or through the bloodstream to other body organs such as the brain. Tumors formed by such cancer cells that spread (metastasize) to other organs are called metastatic tumors. Metastatic brain cancer is a mass of cells (tumor) that originated in another body organ and has spread into the brain tissue. Metastatic tumors in the brain are more common than primary brain tumors. They are usually named after the tissue or organ where the cancer first developed (for example, metastatic lung or breast cancer tumors in the brain, which are the most common types found). Occasionally, an abbreviated name may be used that often confuses people; for example, "small cell brain cancer" actually means "small cell lung cancer that has metastasized to the brain." People should not hesitate to ask their doctor about any terms they do not understand or about the origin of their cancer.

What causes brain cancer?

Primary brain tumors arise from many types of brain tissue (for example, glial cells, astrocytes, and other brain cell types). Metastatic brain cancer is caused by the spread of cancer cells from a body organ to the brain. However, the causes for the change from normal cells to cancer cells in both metastatic and primary brain tumors are not fully understood. Data gathered by research scientists show that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop brain cancer.

Individuals with risk factors, such as having a job in an oil refinery, handlers of jet fuel or chemicals like benzene, chemists, embalmers, or rubber-industry workers, show higher rates of brain cancer than the general population. Some families have several members with brain cancer, but heredity (genetic passage of traits from parents to children) as a cause for brain tumors has not been proven. Other risk factors such as smoking, radiation exposure, and viral infection (HIV) have been suggested but not proven to cause brain cancer. There is no good evidence that brain cancer is contagious, caused by head trauma, or caused by cell phone use. Although many lay press and web articles claim that aspartame (an artificial sweetener) causes brain cancer, the FDA maintains that it does not cause brain cancer and base their findings on over 100 toxicological and clinical studies regarding the sweetener's safety.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/4/2015
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