Brain Tumor

To find the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will ask about your personal and family medical history and perform a complete physical examination. In addition to checking general signs of health, your doctor will perform a neurologic exam. This includes checks for alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes and response to pain. Your doctor also examines the eyes to look for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the nerve that connects the eye and the brain.

Depending on the results of the physical and neurologic examinations, your doctor may request one or both of the following:

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan — Computerized tomography (CT) or computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan is a series of detailed pictures of the brain, created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. In some cases, a special dye is injected into a vein before the scan. The dye helps to show differences in the tissues of the brain.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) — Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides pictures of the brain, using a powerful magnet linked to a computer. MRI is especially useful in diagnosing brain tumors because it can "see" through the bones of the skull to the tissue underneath. A special dye may be used to enhance the likelihood of detecting a brain tumor.

The doctor may also request other tests such as:

  • Angiogram or Arteriogram — These tests are a series of X-rays taken after a special dye is injected into an artery, usually in the area where the abdomen joins the top of the leg. The dye, which flows through the blood vessels of the brain, can be seen on X-rays. These X-rays can show the tumor and connecting blood vessels.
  • Brain Scan — A brain scan reveals areas of abnormal growth in the brain and records them on special film. A small amount of a radioactive material is injected into a vein. This dye is absorbed by the tumor and the growth shows up on the film. The radiation leaves the body within six hours and is not dangerous.
  • Functional Imaging — This test utilizes MRI or magnetic source imaging to identify functional pathways in the brain (motor, visual, language) and alerts the surgeon to potential injury to these pathways during surgery before damage could occur.
  • Myelogram — A myelogram, sometimes called a lumbosacral spine X-ray, is an X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan of the spine. A special dye is injected into the cerebrospinal fluid in the spine and the patient is tilted to allow the dye to mix with the fluid. This test may be done when the doctor suspects a tumor in the spinal cord.
  • MR Spectroscopy — This is a modified MRI scan that shows metabolic activity within a brain tumor. This has largely replaced positron emission tomography (PET) scanning due to its superior resolution and accuracy.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.