A doctor will often begin the process of diagnosing a brain tumor by evaluating both a patient’s medical history and symptoms. If the doctor suspects a brain tumor, she must perform further tests to confirm its presence and determine its size and type. A number of tests are available to find the exact location and type of tumor, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan
- Neurological exam
- Spinal tap
- Stereotactic biopsy.
Doctors often use neurological exams to diagnose a brain tumor. A physician can determine a great deal about a brain tumor by studying the patient’s neurological symptoms and signs. A doctor will often check for problems with:
Tumors in different areas of the brain will cause different neurological symptoms, which can give clues as to the location of the tumor.
Brain Tumor Tests
There are several different medical tests that doctors use to visualize the brain and determine whether or not a tumor is present. Other tests can help further determine the tumor’s size, location, and type. They include:
- Angiogram: An angiogram allows the physician to visualize the blood supply in the brain. A contrast dye is injected into the bloodstream, followed by an x-ray to track the blood flow in the vessels.
- Spinal tap(lumbar puncture): A spinal tap allows a neurologist to obtain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid is used to perform biochemical or cytological analysis to search for cancer cells. Rarely, a spinal tap can be used to relieve pressure from around the brain or spinal cord.
- Stereotactic biopsy: A stereotactic biopsy uses a computer and an imaging system in at least two planes to assist in localization of the tumor so the physician can obtain a sample of tissue. The pathologist can study the removed tissue sample to determine the nature of the tumor.
MRI of Brain Activity
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is one of the most trusted diagnostic brain tumor tests. An MRI is a comprehensive, yet relatively simple, scan of the structure of the brain (or any other area of the body). An MRI uses magnetic fields, radio waves and a computer to produce high resolution images of the entire brain. An MRI image can help to find the exact location, size and shape of the tumor.
A number of different types of MRI scans are in use. These include:
- Functional MRI: Measures the change in blood flow related to brain activity.
- Magnetic resonance sprectroscopy: Determines biochemical information about the tumor, such as possible malignancy.
- Perfusion MRI: Determines where blood is and is not flowing in the brain.
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Brain tumor. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/braintumor/DS00281/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis.
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