Brain Tumor Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of a brain tumor, your physician will ask about your medical history, family history and risk factors. You will also likely need tests and procedures:

  • Physical exam: Your physician will check your reflexes, muscle strength, sensation, eye and mouth movement, vision, coordination and alertness.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This imaging technique uses radio waves and magnets to take pictures of your brain. It can show the difference between a tumor and normal tissue.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: During a CT scan, a camera moves around you and takes X-rays to show detailed images of your brain.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans: PET scans allow your care team to spot an active, growing tumor in your brain.
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS): This imaging scan shows metabolites inside a tumor.
  • Angiogram: Your care team takes a series of X-rays using a special dye to see the tumor and blood vessels that lead to it.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): This less invasive type of MRI is an alternative to an angiogram.
  • Skull X-ray: This X-ray can detect calcium deposits left by tumors. It can also spot changes to the structure of the skull caused by tumors.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): In this procedure, your physician removes a small amount of fluid that bathes your brain and spinal cord. Then, they test the fluid.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This non-invasive test measures the electrical activity in your brain.

If tests suggest that you have a brain tumor, your care team may recommend a biopsy of your brain. For certain tumors, a biopsy or surgery cannot be done safely because of where the tumor has formed in the brain or spinal cord. These tumors are diagnosed and treated based on the results of imaging tests and other procedures. Sometimes the results of imaging tests and other procedures show that the tumor is very likely to be benign, and a biopsy is not done.