How are brain tumors diagnosed?

Brain tumors are diagnosed using sophisticated computer technology that images the brain in various ways. Computerized tomography (CT) uses a computer and X-rays to make a picture of the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or spectroscopy (MRS) create a brain image using magnetic fields and radiowaves. Other imaging techniques that may be used to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of a tumor include digital subtraction angiography (DSA), magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), positron emission tomography (PET), and single photon electron computerized tomography (SPECT).

In addition to their usefulness at the time of initial diagnosis, these technologies may also allow early detection of a brain tumor recurrence, which facilitates earlier treatment.

Most patients with a brain tumor undergo a biopsy, the surgical removal of a tissue sample from the tumor, either alone or as part of the surgical removal of a tumor. A neuropathologist examines the sample under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis, classify the tumor more specifically by the type of cells it contains, determine how abnormal the tumor cells are (histologic grade) and determine how quickly it is growing. Subtle but critical differences in cells that the pathologist detects under the microscope are critical in making the correct diagnosis, which is used in determining further testing and appropriate treatment for each patient.



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