Metastatic Brain Tumor Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of a metastatic 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: A mildly radioactive dye, most often a modified sugar called FDG, is injected into the vein. It is quickly taken up by the “hungry” cancer cell. The scanner then captures this increased radioactivity, which that makes the cancer visible.
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS): This imaging scan shows metabolites inside a lesion. This helps your physician gauge the likelihood of it being a tumor.
  • Angiogram: Your care team takes a series of X-rays taken using a special dye to see the tumor and the blood vessels that lead to it.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): This less invasive type of imaging study 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 to see if it contains the tumor cells.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This non-invasive test measures the electrical activity in your brain.

Brain Tumor Biopsy

If other tests suggest that you have a brain tumor, your care team may recommend a biopsy of your brain. During a biopsy, your surgeon removes a sample of tissue or tumor from your body. Then, a neuro-pathologist analyzes the tissue carefully under a microscope. They also analyze its DNA and sequence it to characterize the tumor with much detail. This leads to a correct and precise diagnosis.