Although there is no specific clinical symptom or sign for brain tumors, slowly progressive focal neurologic signs and signs of elevated intracranial pressure, as well as epilepsy in a patient with a negative history for epilepsy should raise red flags. However, a sudden onset of symptoms, such as an epileptic seizure in a patient with no prior history of epilepsy, sudden intracranial hypertension (this may be due to bleeding within the tumor, brain swelling or obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid's passage) is also possible.
Glioblastoma multiforme and anaplastic astrocytoma have been associated in case reports on PubMed with the genetic acute hepatic porphyrias (PCT, AIP, HCP and VP), including positive testing associated with drug refractory seizures. Unexplained complications associated with drug treatments with these tumors should alert physicians to an undiagnosed neurological porphyria.
Imaging plays a central role in the diagnosis of brain tumors. Early imaging methods—invasive and sometimes dangerous—such as pneumoencephalography and cerebral angiography, have been abandoned in recent times in favor of non-invasive, high-resolution modalities, such as computed tomography (CT) and especially magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Benign brain tumors often show up as hypodense (darker than brain tissue) mass lesions on cranial CT-scans. On MRI, they appear either hypo- (darker than brain tissue) or isointense (same intensity as brain tissue) on T1-weighted scans, or hyperintense (brighter than brain tissue) on T2-weighted MRI, although the appearance is variable. Perifocal edema also appears hyperintense on T2-weighted MRI. Contrast agent uptake, sometimes in characteristic patterns, can be demonstrated on either CT or MRI-scans in most malignant primary and metastatic brain tumors. This is because these tumors disrupt the normal functioning of the blood-brain barrier and lead to an increase in its permeability. However it is not possible to diagnose high versus low grame gliomas based on enhancement pattern alone.
Electrophysiological exams, such as electroencephalography (EEG) play a marginal role in the diagnosis of brain tumors.
The definitive diagnosis of brain tumor can only be confirmed by histological examination of tumor tissue samples obtained either by means of brain biopsy or open surgery. The histological examination is essential for determining the appropriate treatment and the correct prognosis. This examination, performed by a pathologist, typically has three stages: interoperative examination of fresh tissue, preliminary microscopic examination of prepared tissues, and followup examination of prepared tissues after immunohistochemical staining or genetic analysis.
Another possible diagnosis would be neurofibromatosis which can be in type one or type two.
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