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brain metastasis resource

What is secondary brain cancer?

A diagnosis of brain metastasis (a single tumour) or metastases (more than one tumour) is sometimes referred to as a secondary cancer or brain secondary. To make it simpler, these tumours tend to be referred to as brain met. This means you have a tumour or tumours in your brain that appear to have spread from a primary cancer (a cancer that started elsewhere in your body, outside of the brain). The reason why some cancers spread to the brain and the timing of this are not fully understood.

Who gets secondary brain cancer?

People with a secondary brain tumour, or brain met are most likely to already have lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, or skin cancer. These are the cancers that most commonly spread to the brain, and people will already be living with the devastating impact of their primary diagnosis. A tumour that has spread has spread from another cancer site to the brain will be made up of the cancer cells of the original tumour – for example if you have a brain metastasis from breast cancer, then the tumour in the brain will have the same cells as the cancer in your breast.

Data on secondary brain cancer is limited. We do know that brain metastases are one of the most common neurologic complications of cancer. The incidence is 9%-17% based on various studies, and the exact incidence is thought to be higher. The incidence is increasing with improved imaging techniques which aid diagnosis. Effective treatment regimens for primary cancers also now prolong life, thus allowing cancer to disseminate to the brain. Lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma are the most frequent to develop brain metastases, and account for 67%-80% of all cancers (1).

The new brain metastasis resource

Best estimates tell us that 16000 people every year are told that their cancer has spread to their brain (2). Until now there has not been a dedicated resource to help this community who face a unique and complicated set of challenges.

The new brain mets resource from brainstrust is for people who have heard the news that their cancer has spread to their brain. It is also helpful for people caring for someone with a brain metastasis. The guide covers:

  • Diagnosis
  • Symptoms of secondary brain cancer
  • Treatment of secondary brain cancer
  • How to live better after diagnosis
  • Tips for caregivers
  • Ways to meet others and be less alone

It is a readable, easy to understand guide designed to give you direction and confidence when you have just heard more difficult news on your journey with cancer.

The brain metastasis resource is available to download now brainstrust’s resources area. Click here to read.

Are a healthcare professional or from an organisation that supports people with brain metastasis? If so, please order copies for the people under your care here.


(1) Epidemiology of brain metastases
Lakshmi Nayak 1, Eudocia Quant Lee, Patrick Y Wen


(2) Brain tumour research in the United Kingdom: current perspective and future challenges. A strategy document from the NCRI Brain Tumor CSG
Kathreena M Kurian, Michael D Jenkinson, Paul M Brennan, Robin Grant, Sarah Jefferies, Alasdair G Rooney, Helen Bulbeck, Sara C Erridge, Samantha Mills, Catherine McBain, Martin G McCabe, Stephen J Price, Silvia Marino, Erica Moyes, Wendy Qian, Adam Waldman, Babar Vaqas, Debbie Keatley, Peter Burchill, and Colin Watts


Santa in the City


The Brain Tumour Data Dashboard lets you explore up -to-date, population level data about the brain tumours diagnosed in England between 2013 and 2015. Using the drop down menus on the left you can select different groups of patients to view in the charts below. In these charts the number of patients for every 100 diagnoses is displayed as images of people. Patients have been grouped by date of diagnosis, type of tumour, age, gender, and region in England.

For each group of patients you can explore the different routes to diagnosis, the proportion of those who received chemotherapy or radiotherapy, as well as the survival of the patients within each group. For more information about what these metrics mean please see the glossary.

How to use

  1. Select the year of diagnosis using the drop down menu.
  2. Select your patient group of interest from the four drop down menus in the following order:
    1. Tumour group
    2. Age at diagnosis
    3. Region of England
    4. Gender of patient
  3. To view a second chart to compare different groups of patients, click the ‘compare’ button.The second chart will appear below the first chart.

*Note that the tool is best used on a laptop or tablet rather than a mobile phone*

Unavailable data

Some of the data in these charts is not available.There are two main reasons for this:

  1. How the data has been grouped

If you cannot select a patient group from the drop down menus, the data is unavailable because of how the data has been organised.

Public Health England has grouped the data like a branching tree. The bottom of the tree contains all the patients with brain tumours, and then each branch divides the data by a certain characteristics, like age, or location of tumour. But the data is divided in an order, starting with location of the tumour (endocrine or brain), then by age, region, and gender. Age is at the start because it makes a bigger difference to survival rates and treatment rates than gender or region. Sometimes, after the data has been split by type of tumour and age, there is not enough data to be split again. This is because to protect patient confidentiality groups cannot contain less than 100 patients. Because some groups cannot be split further, you cannot create ‘totals’ for everyone by region or gender. For example, you cannot see results for all ages by region, or all brain tumours by gender. If these totals were calculated and released, it might be possible to identify patients, which is why Public Health England cannot release this data.

  1. Statistical reasons and data availability

If you can select a patient group from the chart menus, but the chart does not display, the data is unavailable for one of several reasons:

  1. Data is not yet available for the selected year from Public Health England.
  2. Data is not available because the data quality is too poor to release this statistic.
  3. Data is not available as the statistic is not appropriate for this group.
  4. Data is not available because the standard error of the estimate was greater than 20% and so the estimate has been supressed.

Up to date brain tumour data

Brain tumour data may influence the decisions you make about your care. Data also helps you understand the bigger picture, or landscape, in which you find yourself.

Brain tumour data and statistics influence the focus, and work of organisations like brainstrust. The information helps us to understand the scale and impact of the problems we are setting out to solve.

This tool helps you understand the landscape in which you find yourself having been diagnosed with a brain tumour. This landscape can be particularly tricky to navigate as there are many different types of brain tumour, all of which have a different impact.

The information you see represents the most up-to-date, official, population level brain tumour data available for England. Over time we will be adding to the brain tumour data available and publishing reports, with recommendations, as a result of what we learn from this data.

The data behind this content has come from Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) and is a direct result of the ‘Get Data Out’ project.

This project provides anonymised population level brain tumour data for public use in the form of standard output tables, accessible here:


The number or rate (per head of population) of new cases of a disease diagnosed in a given population during a specified time period (usually a calendar year). The crude rate is the total number of cases divided by the mid-year population, usually expressed per 100,000 population.


Malignant tumours which grow by invasion into surrounding tissues and have the ability to metastasise to distant sites


The number or rate (per head of population) of deaths in a given population during a specified time period (usually a calendar year). The crude rate is the total number of deaths divided by the mid-year population, usually expressed per 100,000 population.


Not cancerousNon-malignant tumours may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.


The length of time from the date of diagnosis for a disease, such as cancer, that patients diagnosed with the disease are still alive. In a clinical trial, measuring the survival is one way to see how well a new treatment works. Also called ‘overall survival’ or ‘OS’.

Routes to Diagnosis

Under the ‘Routes to Diagnosis’ tab in the Brain Tumour Data Dashboard, you can explore the ways patients have been diagnosed with brain tumours. There are many ways, or routes, for cancers to be diagnosed in the NHS. A ‘route to diagnosis’ is the series of events between a patient and the healthcare system that leads to a diagnosis of cancer. The routes include:

  1. Two Week Wait

Patients are urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer via the Two Week Wait system and are seen by a specialist within 2 weeks where they are diagnosed.

  1. GP referral

Diagnosis via a GP referral includes routine and urgent referrals where the patient was not referred under the Two Week Wait system.

  1. Emergency Presentation

Cancers can be diagnosed via emergency situations such as via A&E, emergency GP referral, emergency transfer or emergency admission.

  1. Outpatient

Outpatient cancer diagnoses include diagnoses via an elective route which started with an outpatient appointment that is either a self-referral or consultant to consultant referral. (It does not include those under the Two Week Wait referral system).

  1. Inpatient elective

Diagnosis via an inpatient elective route is where diagnosis occurs after the patient has been admitted into secondary care from a waiting list, or where the admission is booked or planned.

  1. Death Certificate Only

Diagnoses made by Death Certificate Only are made where there is no more information about the cancer diagnosis other than the cancer related death notifications. The date of diagnosis is the same as that of the date of death.

  1. Unknown

For some patients with a cancer diagnosis, there is no relevant data available to understand the route to diagnosis.


More information

If any of the statistical terms in this section of the brainstrust website are hard to understand, we recommend looking them up here:

Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Statistics Explained

If you are looking for help understanding terms relating specifically to brain tumours, and treatment, then the brainstrust glossary is available here: