Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

How is a brain tumor diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your child, examination procedures for a brain tumor may include:

  • Neurological exam – your child’s 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 that 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.
  • Angiogram – a dye is used to visualize all the blood vessels in the brain in order to detect certain types of tumors.
  • Myelogram – an X-ray of the spine, similar to an angiogram.
  • Lumbar puncture/spinal tap – a special needle is placed into the lower back into the spinal canal (the area around the spinal cord). A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid can be removed and sent for testing. CSF is the fluid which bathes the brain and spinal cord.

Examination of a brain tumor depends mostly on the types of cells in which the tumor begins and the tumor location.