Brain Tumor Diagnosis

When visiting a specialist for your brain tumor treatment, please make sure the physician has access to the results of any imaging tests (like an MRI or CT, for example) in the form of a CD, DVD, film or online, and access to your laboratory test results as well.

There are several different tests that can be performed to diagnose a brain tumor:

  • The neurological exam is used to assess symptoms. This can include questions about current health and medical history, but also checks reflexes, vision and ability to remember or concentrate.
  • Cerebral angiograms (X-rays of the blood vessels in the brain) can be taken. With the use of an injected contrast dye, your doctor can see the pattern of veins and arteries in your brain and around the various tumors.
  • A biopsy is a test that is performed through a surgical intervention. During this test, the neurosurgeon removes a small portion of the abnormal tissue so it can be checked under a microscope. This shows if a tumor is cancerous or not, or if a cancerous tumor has spread to healthy tissue.
  • Blood and urine tests may be used to check hormone levels. An imbalance could indicate a tumor in the pituitary gland, which sits at the base of the skull under the brain.
  • CT scans take a picture of the brain by scanning your brain from many different angles. A CT scan can be especially helpful for finding tumors that develop on or near the bone and evaluate if a brain tumor has caused any bleeding.
  • A lumbar puncture is a test that lets your doctor study the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) that is produced continuously by the nervous system and circulates throughout the brain and spine. Studying the characteristics of CSF can lead to possible detection of tumor cells circulating in the nervous system. In some cases, certain tumor cells circulate within the CSF and can be detected under the microscope.
  • An MRI is one of the best ways to diagnose a brain tumor. The use of magnetic fields instead of X-rays gives a more detailed image of the brain and tumors within the brain. A functional MRI (fMRI) is an MRI that’s taken while the individual is asked to perform a task, such as speaking aloud or tapping the fingers. This helps identify if a tumor is in an area that’s affecting an important brain function, like speech, memory or movement.
  • An MRS (MRI Spectroscopy) works in a similar way as an MRI, but measures the amount of certain molecules in the brain rather than just mapping images. With this diagnostic tool, the physicians can try to differentiate brain tumors from each other based on differences in their molecular fingerprint.
  • PET scans use an injection of radioactive glucose to see if there are changes in cells as they grow.