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How is brain cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis of brain cancer involves evaluating symptoms and taking a medical history. Examination often shows focal (isolated location) or general neurologic changes that are specific to the location of the tumor or cancer. Some tumors may not show symptoms until they are very large and cause rapid neurologic decline, others are characterized by slowly

progressive symptoms. Most brain tumors will include signs typical of space-occupying masses (aggregations of cells) which cause increased intracranial pressure and compression of brain tissue.

The patient may have a neurological exam, which involves checking eye movements, reflexes, hearing, balance, coordination, touch, taste, smell, facial muscle movement, tongue movement, head movement, and mental status. The patient may need special tests to show the size, shape, and location of the tumor within the brain. Tests may include an x-ray, CT scan (computed tomography), PET (positron emission tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

A biopsy will probably be done to confirm that the tumor is cancer and to find out what type of cells are involved. This can be done as part of an operation to remove the tumor, or can be done in a separate procedure where only a small sample of tissue is obtained. A needle biopsy may be used for brain tumors in hard to reach areas within the brain. The surgeon drills a small hole, called a burr hole, into the skull. A narrow, thin needle is then inserted through the hole.Tissue is removed using the needle, which is frequently guided by CT scanning.

More information on brain cancer

What is brain cancer? - Brain cancers are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull. Cancers that start in the brain are called primary brain cancers.
What causes brain cancer? - Genetic factors, various environmental toxins, radiation, and cigarette smoking have all been linked to cancers of the brain.
What're the risk factors for brain cancer? - Patients with certain genetic conditions have an increased risk to develop tumors of the central nervous system.
What're the symptoms of brain cancer? - Brain cancer symptoms may vary from person to person. Headache is the most common symptom of a brain tumor.
How is brain cancer diagnosed? - Diagnosis of brain cancer involves evaluating symptoms and taking a medical history. The patient may have a neurological exam.
What's the treatment for brain cancer? - Treatment of brain cancers depends on the diagnosis. Treatment involves any combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
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