What Is Required for a Brain Tumor Diagnosis?

A brain tumor diagnosis is usually made after a neurological exam, imaging tests, and a biopsy if necessary. Imaging tests include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET). A biopsy is often performed as part of the operation to remove the tumor but can also be done using a needle. The removed tissue is then analyzed to see if the tumor is cancerous or benign. In some cases, a doctor may also order additional testing to determine whether the patient has cancer in another area of his or her body that is the source of the brain tumor.

Initial brain tumor symptoms can vary widely depending on tumor size and the affected part of the brain. A brain tumor is often suspected when a patient has headaches that get progressively worse, are very severe, and are always in the same place. These headaches usually cause vomiting and blurred vision. Other signs include gradual loss of movement in an arm or leg, trouble balancing, and speech problems. Some patients may also experience personality changes, confusion, and seizures.


These signs and symptoms often cause a doctor to examine a patient for a brain tumor. A brain tumor diagnosis is a multi-step process that begins with a neurological exam. This is a physical exam that typically checks balance, vision, and coordination and reflexes. A patient who has trouble in one or more of these areas may have a tumor affecting the related part of the brain.

If the patient displays some signs of a brain tumor and has difficulty during the neurological exam, a brain tumor diagnosis next requires diagnostic testing. Imaging tests help the doctor see inside a patient’s head and determine whether there is a mass or masses in the brain. The most common imaging test for a brain tumor diagnosis is the MRI, sometimes administered with contrast or an injectable dye. An MRI is a test that uses a magnetic field and radio wave energy to create pictures of the body. It does not cause pain, although some patients may experience a reaction to the dye or symptoms brought on by anxiety.

In addition to an MRI, a doctor may order a CT or PET scan when making a brain tumor diagnosis. A CT scan makes cross-sectional images of soft tissues by combining a series of X-ray views. This type of scan will expose a patient to a lot more radiation than a regular X-ray, but many doctors believe that the benefit outweighs any potential risk. A PET scan uses radioactive material to show how an organ like the brain is functioning.

If the doctor suspects that a patient’s brain tumor is actually the result of cancer somewhere else in the body, additional testing may be ordered. Such testing can include imaging tests as well as blood tests. For example, a CT scan can be ordered to look for cancer in the lungs that may have spread to the brain.

A brain tumor diagnosis is usually confirmed after a biopsy or the collection and testing of a tissue sample. An operation is normally performed to remove any mass found on imaging tests that is later tested to see if it is cancerous or not. An alternative to surgery involves using a stereotactic needle inserted through a small hole drilled into the skull. CT and MRI scans guide the doctor as he or she uses the needle to remove a sample. This method is less invasive than brain surgery.

Once a brain tumor diagnosis is made, treatment depends on many factors, including size and location of the tumor as well as the patient’s health. If possible, surgery is performed to remove the tumor. Other options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and radiosurgery. Targeted drug treatment is another option. In some cases, rehabilitation like speech and physical therapy may be a necessary part of recovery.



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