Diagnosis of Brain Tumors

Diagnosis of Brain Tumors

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, and health and family history. Your nerves, muscles, and coordination will be carefully checked. The doctor may also look for signs of brain swelling. Testing will help narrow down the cause of the problems.

Diagnosis of a Brain Tumor

You may need:

CT Scan of the Head

Breast self-exam, step 5
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Tumor Characteristics

Other tests will help find certain facts about the tumor. This is needed to make a treatment plan. Tests may include:

  • Blood and tissue tests—Blood tests may find tumor markers in the blood. Markers and certain blood proteins may be higher than normal. Blood and tissue tests look for chromosome changes or inherited disorders linked to certain types of brain tumors.
  • Lumbar puncture—A needle is used to collect some cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord.

A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue to be looked at in a lab. They can also help find if the tumor is more likely to spread to other places in the brain. If a biopsy can’t be done, imaging tests may be able to find enough information.

A biopsy may be:

  • Stereotactic biopsy—Uses a computer version of a CT or MRI scan to find the tumor. A needle will remove the tissue. It’s taken out through a small hole in the skull. It may be used when a tumor can’t be taken out with surgery.
  • Open craniotomy —Tissue samples are looked at for cancer at the time of surgery. They are taken out through a hole in the skull.

Staging of a Brain Tumor

Staging is a way to classify malignant primary brain tumors. It's one of many ways used to make a treatment plan.

Tumor and Patient Characteristics

Tumor characteristics that are needed include:

  • Type
  • Location
  • Size
  • Grade—how much the tumor may grow
  • How far the tumor has spread
  • If it can be taken out with surgery

Patient characteristics include:

  • Age
  • Level of function with the tumor
  • Overall health

The best ways to predict how well someone may do are with the patient’s age and functional status. As a rule, younger patients do better. So do those who have very few symptoms because of the tumor.


All cancers are graded to find the most updated treatment. The preferred grading system is by the World Health Organization (WHO). The tumor grades help predict the rate of growth, if it will spread, and potential outcomes.

  • Grade I (low-grade) —Slow growing cells that rarely spread. They have the best chance for cure if they can be surgically removed.
  • Grade II —Have the potential to spread. Some may turn into a higher grade tumor. These may also recur after treatment.
  • Grade III —They’re likely to spread. They grow faster than lower grade tumors.
  • Grade IV (high-grade) —They’re quick to spread. Grade IV tumors are not curable.


Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed August 8, 2018.
General information about adult central nervous system tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/patient/adult-brain-treatment-pdq. Updated July 5, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Meningioma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116926/Meningioma . Updated January 19, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Updated June 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Tests for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Updated November 6, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 8/8/2018

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