Brain Tumors Symptoms Diagnosing

Brain tumors grow when a mass of abnormal cells forms in or near the brain, which can create increased pressure on, and distortion of, different brain structures. Depending on which regions of the brain are affected, brain tumor symptoms can differ widely from patient to patient, making them hard to diagnose with a physical examination alone. Doctors must use a wide variety of tests and techniques to accurately diagnose tumors in brain tissue.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

The first step in diagnosing brain tumors is evaluating the symptoms, which vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Brain tumor symptoms may include:

  • Double vision
  • Emotional changes
  • Headache
  • Hormonal changes
  • Loss of hearing, speech and/or vision
  • Nausea
  • Seizures.

Brain Tumor Diagnostic Tests

If a brain tumor doctor sees sufficient evidence of a brain tumor during the initial examination, further diagnostic tests can confirm the existence of tumor cells. Doctors use several techniques to detect tumors in brain tissue, including:

  • Biopsy
  • Imaging tests
  • Neurological exams.

Understanding and recognizing symptoms helps the physician make a diagnosis and determine which part of the brain is affected. To identify the presence of a brain tumor, a doctor may also suggest neurological exams that check for:

  • Alertness
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Muscle strength
  • Reflexes
  • Response to pain.

Brain Tumor Imaging and Biopsy Tests

After a doctor completes initial examinations, imaging tests are often the next step in diagnosing brain tumors. These tests are non-invasive and allow a doctor to scan the entire brain to find a mass of abnormal cells. The most effective imaging test is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses electromagnetic energy to provide high resolution images on a computer.

Once a doctor is able to locate the tumor with imaging tests, he may take a biopsy—or sample of tissue—from the mass if it’s in an accessible location. A biopsy helps to confirm diagnosis of the brain tumor and determine its type. Microscopic examination of cells from the mass can identify whether a tumor is primary or secondary, and if the tumor is malignant or benign. If the cells are lung cells, for example, doctors know the cancer has metastasized (migrated) from the lung to the brain, and can likely classify the tumor as a malignant secondary brain tumor.

Other tools doctors may use for diagnosing brain tumors include:

  • Computerized axial tomography (CAT or CT scan): Uses x-rays to follow a contrast dye and identify abnormal tissue.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan): Uses nuclear medicine imaging to follow a radioactive tracer solution absorbed by tumor cells.
  • Skull x-ray: Uses x-rays to find calcium deposits in the brain or problems with the skull caused by a tumor.

Resources

HealthCommunities.com Staff. (2010). Brain cancer. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from the HealthCommunities.com website: http://www.oncologychannel.com/braincancer/diagnosis.shtml.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2008). Brain tumor. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/DS00281/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis.

MedicineNet Staff. (n.d.). Brain tumor. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from the MedicineNet.com website: http://www.medicinenet.com/brain_tumor/page5.htm.