Brain metastases: epidemiology and pathophysiology

Author(s): Gavrilovic IT, Posner JB

Abstract

Metastases are the most common tumors of the central nervous system (CNS), but cancer databases are often incomplete leading to underestimation of the incidence of even symptomatic brain metastases. Brain imaging studies are not routinely performed on neurologically asymptomatic cancer patients and autopsy studies are outdated. Furthermore, while incidence rates for cancers are stable and mortality is decreasing due to earlier detection and better therapy, the incidence of brain metastases appears to be increasing. The pathophysiology of brain metastases is a complex multistage process, mediated by molecular mechanisms; from the primary organ, cancer cells must transform, grow and be transported to the CNS where they can lay dormant for various lengths of time before invading and growing further. Understanding the pathophysiology of brain metastases is of great importance, because it may lead to the development of more efficient therapies to combat brain tumor growth or to possibly make the CNS an undesirable environment for tumor progression.

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