Brain tumors arise from abnormal cell growth that leads to the formation of a mass in the brain tissue. This growth or tumor may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant, in which case the tumor is cancerous and may spread to other parts of the body.
If a doctor suspects a patient may have a brain tumor, they are referred to a neurologist who is a specialist in brain conditions or an oncologist who is an expert in cancer. In some cases, a person with a brain tumor may suddenly experience a fit, in which case they may be taken straight to hospital.
At hospital, a physician will obtain details of the patient’s health and medical history. They will also examine the patient’s nervous system which involves checking their balance, coordination, reflexes, hearing, limb strength and eyesight as well as their ability to perform simple arithmetic. Blood tests and a chest X-ray are also performed as part of a general health check.
This initial assessment is then followed up with further tests to check for a tumor and help plan any necessary treatment. These tests include:
- A computerized tomography (CT) scan
- A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
This is a special type of head X-ray that uses a contrast dye that is injected into the arteries of the brain, to reveal the details of the arteries and veins.
A small sample of tissue is taken from the tumor. Surgeons can obtain tissue using a needle biopsy. For this procedure, a small hole is drilled in the skull and a thin, hollow needle is inserted into to remove a sample of the brain tumor. One type of needle biopsy used is stereotactic biopsy, where the biopsy is performed using a computer and a CT or MRI device to locate the tumor.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc