What are the symptoms of metastatic brain and spine tumors?

The signs and symptoms of a metastatic brain and spine tumor (secondary brain and spinal cord cancer) depend on the size and location of the tumor and include:

  • Headaches that are worse in the morning or go away after vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Comprehension problems
  • Hearing or speech issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Walking and balance problems
  • Muscle weakness

How are metastatic brain and spine tumors diagnosed?

Your doctor could discover a metastatic brain and spine tumor (secondary brain and spinal cord cancer) while evaluating your primary cancer diagnosis, or your signs and symptoms could lead your care team to conduct a neurological exam (a physical exam of your nervous system). If the results of the neurological exam suggest a tumor, your care team may conduct further testing to confirm a diagnosis.

Specialty neuroradiologists at Miami Cancer Institute have access to advanced diagnostic tests for brain metastases. The following tests help them provide the most accurate diagnosis:

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests with gadolinium. Our specialists conduct fMRI tests with gadolinium (a contrast dye injected into a vein) to get a better picture of what is going on in your brain. Functional MRI tests allow them to record and assess your brain activity. Gadolinium is attracted to cancer cells and makes tumors of all sizes show up better in images.

Lumbar puncture. Your care team at the Institute may recommend a lumbar puncture to check your cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord) for neoplastic meningitis. Also called leptomeningeal metastases, neoplastic meningitis is a complication of cancer in which cancer cells spread from a tumor to the meninges (the tissue that protects the brain and spinal cord). Your doctor obtains a sample of cerebrospinal fluid by injecting a needle between two vertebra and collecting the fluid in a container. A local anesthetic is used to numb the site of the procedure.

Biopsy. Though rare, your care team may need to examine a small sample of tumor tissue to make a diagnosis. Our specialists are skilled in several brain tumor biopsy techniques – both open and closed. The technique used depends on the location of the tumor.

(Current Drug Treatment Approaches for Brain Metastases)
(Contemporary Assessment of Primary CNS Tumors and Role of Radiation Therapy)
“It’s important to have the tumor histology and molecular profile for any patient newly diagnosed with brain metastisis. No longer is the day that we would just think that any brain metastasis is the same as any other brain metastasis.”
Rupesh Kotecha, M.D.
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