• Brain Tumor Diagnosis

    Examinations and Tests

    Members of Lahey's Brain Tumor Clinic team—including a neurosurgeon, neuro-oncologist, neuropathologist and neuroradiologist—work collaboratively when evaluating a patient with a potential brain tumor diagnosis. One or more of the following examinations and tests may be performed:

    • Medical history: The patient provides information regarding any past and present health conditions so as to assist the physician in assessing his/her current health status.
    • Neurologic exam: The physician assesses alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes and response to pain. An eye examination is also performed to check for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the optic nerve (nerve that connects the eye and brain).
    • CT (computed tomography) scan: Using an X-ray machine that is linked to a computer, a series of detailed pictures of the head are taken to reveal any tumors present in the brain. The patient may receive an injection of a special dye (contrast dye) to make abnormal brain tissue easier to identify in the pictures.
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Detailed images of the brain are produced using magnetism, radio waves and a computer. Sometimes a special dye (gadolinium) is injected to help reveal differences in the tissues of the brain, including any tumors or other problems.


    Biopsy and Tumor Resection

    In addition to the examinations and tests discussed above, your neurosurgeon may perform a biopsy. Biopsy involves removing a small tissue sample to look for tumor cells. In some cases, the tissue sample is obtained by resecting (removing) the entire tumor. Obtaining tumor tissue is the only way to make a definitive brain tumor diagnosis.

    Following a biopsy, the neuropathologist examines the cells under a microscope to check for abnormalities. The biopsy may reveal cancer, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, or other conditions.

    Sometimes obtaining a tissue sample is not possible. If the tumor is located in the brainstem or other vital areas of the brain, the neurosurgeon may not be able to remove tissue from the tumor without damaging normal brain tissue. In these cases, MRI, CT and/or other imaging tests are used instead.

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