Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

How is a brain tumor diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for brain tumors may include the following:

  • Neurological examination – your physician tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness.
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • X-ray – a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs onto film.
  • Bone scan – pictures or X-rays taken of the bone after a dye has been injected that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumors and bone abnormalities.
  • Arteriogram (also called an angiogram) – an X-ray of the arteries and veins to detect blockage or narrowing of the vessels.
  • Myelogram – a procedure that uses dye injected into the spinal canal to make the structure clearly visible on X-rays.
  • Spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

Diagnosis of a brain tumor depends mostly on the types of cells involved and the tumor location.