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General Information for Tumor Diagnosis

Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D.

January 01, 2009

General diagnosis

Your doctor may order a variety of tests to diagnose a brain tumor. The process generally starts with the family physician or neurologist who will perform a history and physical examination to check for symptoms and signs associated with a brain tumor. He/she will check your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, and other neurological functions.

Tests which may be ordered to check for a brain tumor include:

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to exam the brain in detail. For this test, the patient will lie in a large cylindrical magnet that is used along with radio waves to image soft tissues, like the brain, in detail. A contrast dye may be given to highlight abnormal structures (tumor) within the brain.

CT (computerized tomography) scan to image the brain. A CT scan is a series of x-ray images compiled by a computer to form 2-D images. Contrast dye may be used to highlight structures (such as the brain’s vasculature). CT scans are generally better at examining abnormalities in hard tissues, like bony erosion or calcification.

PET (positron emission tomography) scan to gauge tumor activity, brain function and blood flow. A patient is usually administered a radioactive form of glucose that is monitored to measure varying rates of metabolic activity in the brain.

If a tumor is found, a biopsy may be performed to collect a small sample of the tumor for testing and identification. A section of the tumor is examined by a pathologist (usually a neuropathologist) under a microscope to determine the type of cells making up the tumor and the tumor’s grade (how aggressive it is.)

Tumor sample collection may take place in one of the following procedures:

Surgery - Removing the tumor by opening the skull (craniotomy) and tumor resection.

Surgical removal of a tumor

Biopsy - A small quarter-size hole in the skull is created to obtain tumor samples through a needle. The tumor is not removed in this process.

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