An estimated 20% of all patients with cancer will develop brain metastases, with the majority of brain metastases occurring in those with lung, breast and colorectal cancers, melanoma or renal cell carcinoma. Brain metastases are thought to occur via seeding of circulating tumour cells into the brain microvasculature; within this unique microenvironment, tumour growth is promoted and the penetration of systemic medical therapies is limited. Development of brain metastases remains a substantial contributor to overall cancer mortality in patients with advanced-stage cancer because prognosis remains poor despite multimodal treatments and advances in systemic therapies, which include a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies. Thus, interest abounds in understanding the mechanisms that drive brain metastases so that they can be targeted with preventive therapeutic strategies and in understanding the molecular characteristics of brain metastases relative to the primary tumour so that they can inform targeted therapy selection. Increased molecular understanding of the disease will also drive continued development of novel immunotherapies and targeted therapies that have higher bioavailability beyond the blood–tumour barrier and drive advances in radiotherapies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. As these discoveries and innovations move from the realm of basic science to preclinical and clinical applications, future outcomes for patients with brain metastases are almost certain to improve.
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