The median survival after whole-brain irradiation of patients with brain metastases is 4 months. Because half the patients with brain metastases die of systemic cancer, for most the benefit of intensive local treatment (surgery or stereotactic radiosurgery) of brain metastases will be minimal. In particular, patients with controlled systemic disease and one to three brain metastases are candidates for intensive local treatments. Combined local treatment with whole-brain irradiation therapy improves the local control of brain metastases in comparison with whole-brain irradiation only. After the local treatment of brain metastases by either surgery or radiosurgery, overall survival is not adversely affected if whole-brain irradiation is only administered as salvage treatment at the time of relapse. New randomized trials are needed, however, to investigate this further. The response rate of brain metastases to chemotherapy is similar to the response rate of the primary tumour and non-cerebral metastases.