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In a moving social media post, the 90210 and Charmed star has shared that her cancer has spread to her brain and she’s currently undergoing treatment. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Hallmark Channel
  • Actress Shannen Doherty has revealed she has brain cancer.
  • She was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and underwent a mastectomy and received radiation and chemotherapy.
  • She announced in 2017 that she was in remission, but in 2020 she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, which has now spread to her brain.

“Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Charmed” actress Shannen Doherty revealed on June 7 in an emotional Instagram post that her breast cancer has spread to her brain.

“On January 5th, my CT scan showed [metastases] in my brain,” read the caption of the video, which showed her being fitted for a mask worn while receiving radiation to the brain.

“My fear is obvious. I am extremely claustrophobic and there was a lot going on in my life,” wrote Doherty, 52. “I am fortunate as I have great doctors…. But that fear…. The turmoil….. the timing of it all…. This is what cancer can look like.”

The first round of radiation took place on January 12, she wrote.

Doherty was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, reports NBC News. She underwent a mastectomy and received chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The actress announced in 2017 that she was in remission, but said in 2020 that she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

Stage 4, or metastatic, breast cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

When breast cancer spreads, it most commonly goes to the bones, liver, and lungs. In some cases, it will spread to the brain or other organs. These resulting tumors outside the breast are called metastases or “mets.”

Dr. Pavani Chalasani, a hematology oncology specialist at The George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., said the majority of women with breast cancer are diagnosed at an earlier stage, when the cancer is easier to treat.

One of the goals of breast cancer treatment done at these earlier stages is to prevent stage 4 from happening, she told Healthline.

Dr. Parvin Peddi, a medical oncologist and director of Breast Medical Oncology for the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said the outlook is good for most people diagnosed with breast cancer in these earlier stages.

“Thankfully, we can cure the majority of [these breast cancer patients] if they take medications or receive chemotherapy after surgery,” she told Healthline. In addition, “the majority of those patients never have the cancer come back anywhere.”

Compared to other types of cancer — like melanoma or lung cancer — the brain is a less common site for metastatic breast cancer, Peddi said.

But some subtypes of breast cancer are more likely to go to the brain when they spread, she added. These include:

Dr. Jack Jacoub, a medical oncologist and medical director of MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, said having stage 4 cancer increases the chance of the cancer spreading to the brain. This includes people who were diagnosed with stage 4 cancer from the start.

“In general, when you have stage 4 disease — it doesn’t matter if it’s breast cancer, lung cancer, or another type of cancer — there is a higher chance you could develop brain metastases,” he told Healthline.

Currently, doctors don’t recommend routine monitoring for metastatic brain tumors — even in people with HER2-positive or triple-negative breast cancers — who don’t have symptoms. That’s because “the majority of them are okay,” said Peddi.

One of the challenges of treating breast cancer that has spread to the brain, said Peddi, is that many medications used to treat aggressive cancers don’t cross the blood-brain barrier.

“So if you caught the cancer a little bit on the later side, and a few cancer cells did go to the brain, you’re going to have a hard time treating them,” she said.

However, Chalasani said certain newer medications are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, which has improved the outlook for people with metastatic brain tumors.

With these newer medications, “we are actually improving patients’ quality of life and their lifespan — trying to ensure they can live a long time, but also with good quality,” she said.

Jacoub said other treatment options are available for brain metastases, such as neurosurgery to remove the tumors, which is typically followed up with radiation therapy.

Another treatment option, he said, is stereotactic radiosurgery, which uses focused beams of radiation to treat brain tumors without cutting into the brain.

“We have all these interventions,” he said. “Which ones we use depends on many factors — how much of the brain is involved, how early or late in the disease course the patient is, what are the patient’s specific factors, etc.”

The impact of metastatic brain tumors on a person’s daily life depends on many factors, said Jacoub, including how many metastases there are in the brain, how large they are, and where they are located.

Peddi said some of the most common symptoms of metastatic brain tumors are:

But again, a person’s symptoms depend on which parts of the brain are affected.

Chalasani said she has diagnosed patients with possible metastatic brain tumors based on changes in their behavior.

“If the tumor affects the front area of the brain, that can change the personality,” she said. For example, “a couple of my patients [with a tumor in that area of the brain] developed acute anxiety, which is not how they usually are.”

A person’s long-term outcome also depends on how many metastases are present in the brain, and what treatments they receive.

Peddi said breast cancer patients with metastatic brain tumors typically live less than five years. “That’s the average,” she said. “Some patients do better, while some do worse.”

However, Jacoub said with recent improvements in therapies for breast cancer, some cases that were previously really challenging now have a better outcome.

“People used to have a prognosis of only a few months after brain metastases,” he said. “Now we see patients living for several years after that.”

The best way to reduce the risk of breast cancer spreading to the brain is to diagnose and treat the cancer early.

“By the time the cancer cells show up on brain scans, unfortunately, it is too late,” said Peddi. “Even though patients can be treated with some modalities, they cannot be cured at that point.”

She said that’s why “we recommend that you go for your mammogram to catch the breast cancer as early as possible.”

Jacoub agreed: “Whether their breast cancer is caught through screening or caught because a woman feels a lump, the earlier the disease, the lower the chance the cancer is going to come back after treatment.”

Peddi emphasized that surgery is not the end of treatment.

“Depending on the cancer and the stage, you almost always need some medication to go throughout your body to kill the cancer cells that have escaped from the breast,” she said. Ideally, this happens “before they can lodge themselves in an organ that is critical, such as the brain.”