Secondary cancer: the risk of brain metastasis for elderly cancer survivors

An image to illustrate the risk of brain metastasis for elderly cancer survivors
© iStock/M_a_y_a

The American Association for Cancer Research has found that elderly cancer survivors of three common cancers face a persistent risk of brain metastasis.

Brain metastasis is a secondary cancer that has metastasized to the brain from another place in the body. The study concluded that elderly survivors of breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma have a risk of the secondary cancer brain metastasis following their diagnosis. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) recommends additional surveillance in the years following their initial cancer treatment.

The importance of studying secondary cancer

Barnholtz-Sloan, explained: “As cancer treatments have gotten better and more people are surviving a primary cancer diagnosis, it’s important to study secondary cancers, including metastasis to the brain. With an aging U.S. population, the number of people with brain metastasis is increasing, although sometimes that metastasis does not occur until many years after the initial cancer diagnosis.”

Mustafa S. Ascha, MS, a PhD candidate in the Center for Clinical Investigation, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western, added: “As people are living longer after an initial cancer diagnosis, their ‘time at risk’ for metastasis is going up. In addition, the majority of primary cancer diagnoses have no standard of care for brain metastasis screening.”

Assessing the risk of brain metastasis

The rates of brain metastasis in the study were lowest in patients who had localised breast tumors and highest in those whose cancer had already spread to another part of the body.

Barnholtz-Sloan concluded: “Brain metastases are detected with MRI, which is very expensive. An improved understanding of who is likely to develop a brain metastasis could help determine who should get an MRI.”

“If we can identify brain metastases earlier in their progression, that could allow for earlier treatment and improved outcomes for these patients.”

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