Leptomeningeal disease occurs when cancer (for example from a lung, breast or melanoma), or another area of the body spreads (metastasizes) to the cerebrospinal fluid or meninges. Cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid that transfers important nutrients to the brain and spinal cord, while meninges are layers of fine tissue that surround the brain and spinal cord. Leptomeningeal disease is also referred to as carcinoma meningitis, meningeal metastases and leptomeningeal metastases, among other names.
What are the symptoms of leptomeningeal disease?
As is the case with most cancers that affect the neurological system, the symptoms of leptomeningeal disease can vary considerably. Possible symptoms include:
- Double vision
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Neck or back pain
- Muscle weakness or impaired coordination in the arms or legs
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Lethargy and excessive sleepiness
Leptomeningeal disease is an uncommon condition that occurs in about 5% of cancer patients. Even so, it’s important to promptly consult with a physician and receive appropriate treatment if one or more of these symptoms occur. Diagnosing leptomeningeal disease often involves taking a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain and spinal cord, as well as a evaluating a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, which can be obtained through a minimally invasive lumbar puncture procedure. The diagnosis of this rare condition remains challenging and needs an experienced team.
Our approach to leptomeningeal disease
Timely treatment of leptomeningeal disease is key to living longer and experiencing the best possible quality of life. At Moffitt Cancer Center, the multispecialty team within our Neuro-Oncology Program focuses exclusively on complex neurological cancers like leptomeningeal disease. Moffitt is a high-volume cancer center, and our brain cancer specialists possess a unique level of experience in treating brain metastases—experience that allows us to provide the highest level of treatment and supportive care to our patients.
Moffitt is also actively exploring new treatments for leptomeningeal disease and other neurological malignancies through our trailblazing clinical trial program, which allows participants to receive breakthrough therapies before they are made widely available. We study leptomeningeal disease in our laboratories and this is a major focus of our group. Our ambitious research efforts have resulted in our designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center from the National Cancer Institute.
Medically Reviewed by Nam Tran, MD, PhD, Surgeon, Department of Neuro-Oncology
To speak with a Moffitt brain cancer specialist about a leptomeningeal disease diagnosis or treatment options, call us at or submit a new patient registration form online. Virtual visits appointments are also available.