What Is Required for a Brain Cancer Diagnosis?

April S. Kenyon
April S. Kenyon
MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.

A brain cancer diagnosis is generally made by a neurologist. Other doctors involved in diagnosing brain cancer may include primary care physicians, oncologists, pathologists, and neoropathologists. Necessary tests, procedures, and exams required for a brain cancer diagnosis typically include a neurological exam, various diagnostic tests, blood samples, a biopsy of the tumor, and proper analysis and evaluation of the brain tissue. Brain cancer is not taken lightly and often requires a multitude of medical tests, exams, and professional opinions before a final diagnosis is determined.

A blood sample is often used to help diagnose brain cancer.
A blood sample is often used to help diagnose brain cancer.

Brain cancer is usually detected as a result of a patient experiencing other complications or illnesses, so a primary care physician is often the first doctor involved in the brain cancer diagnosis. If the primary care physician suspects neurological problems, he or she may recommend and schedule a neurological exam and appointment. A neurologist will likely check vision, coordination, hearing, reflexes, and balance. These exams may help the neurologist determine which areas of the brain could be affected.

A brain scan can help determine where in the brain a tumor may be located.
A brain scan can help determine where in the brain a tumor may be located.

After a thorough neurological exam has been performed, a number of diagnostic tests may be ordered. Tests could include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), or positron emission tomography (PET). These brain scans can help determine the location in the brain where a tumor might be present. The patient generally receives a dye injection through a vein before the test. This dye enhances the image of the tumor on the brain scan, making it easier to locate and diagnose.

Some patients may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial brain cancer diagnosis.
Some patients may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial brain cancer diagnosis.

Once a brain tumor has been located, a biopsy is generally necessary to determine malignancy. In many cases, a biopsy is done at the time of surgery and a piece of the tumor is taken to be placed under a microscope and evaluated. If the tumor is in a difficult place to reach, a stereotactic needle biopsy may be performed. For this procedure, the patient is fitted with a stereotactic head frame and a small hole is drilled in the skull. A needle is then inserted into the hole and a sample of the tissue surrounding the tumor is taken.

Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.
Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.

The sample of tumor or tissue that is taken during the biopsy must be thoroughly analyzed by a pathologist or neuropathologist before a brain cancer diagnosis is made. A number of factors are taken into consideration when making the diagnosis. The team of doctors must properly analyze and evaluate the size, location, and grade of the tumor, as well as determine how quickly it is metastasizing and advancing before a definite brain cancer diagnosis can be made.

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Discussion Comments

bagley79

I know that your regular doctor can have tests ordered if you are having symptoms of a brain tumor, but if you require more treatment, you will need to see a neurologist.

They are the ones who specialize in all areas of the brain, and because this is such a complex area, you want all the expertise you can get. I have heard of people who put off seeing their doctor when they were having symptoms because they were afraid of what the doctor would say, but I think it is always better to know you so can get treatment as soon as possible if you need to.

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    • MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
      MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
    • A blood sample is often used to help diagnose brain cancer.
      A blood sample is often used to help diagnose brain cancer.
    • A brain scan can help determine where in the brain a tumor may be located.
      A brain scan can help determine where in the brain a tumor may be located.
    • Some patients may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial brain cancer diagnosis.
      Some patients may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial brain cancer diagnosis.
    • Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.
      Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.
    • The neurologist may conduct a brain biopsy in order to diagnose brain cancer.
      The neurologist may conduct a brain biopsy in order to diagnose brain cancer.
    • Other illnesses typically lead to a brain cancer diagnosis.
      Other illnesses typically lead to a brain cancer diagnosis.