Tests for brain tumours
This page tells you what may happen if you or your doctor suspect you could have a brain tumour. There are sections about
Tests for brain tumours
Usually you begin by seeing your family doctor, who will examine you and ask you about your symptoms and general health.
Your doctor will ask you to have a physical examination, including a neurological examination. This includes looking into your eyes, testing your reflexes, testing your senses and coordination, and asking simple questions to test your memory. Your doctor may also want to examine your breasts, tummy (abdomen) or back passage (rectum). This is to make sure there are no obvious signs of cancer elsewhere in your body.
At the hospital
If you see a specialist you will be asked to have another physical and neurological examination. You may have blood tests to check your general health. Your specialist may want you to have an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI scan. Before these scans you usually have an injection of dye called contrast medium. This circulates in the bloodstream to your brain and makes the pictures of the brain clearer.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing brain tumours section.
Usually you begin by seeing your family doctor who will examine you and ask about your general health.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. This will include what they are, when you get them and whether anything you do makes them better or worse.
Your doctor will ask you to have a physical examination. This includes an examination of your nervous system.
Testing your nervous system is called a neurological examination. It involves a number of simple tests. Your doctor will do the following.
- Test your muscle strength by asking you to squeeze their hand with each of yours or push against their hand with your feet
- Test your reflexes, tapping your knee with a rubber hammer
- Look into your eyes to see if there are any changes inside the eye
- Shine a light at your eyes to see if your pupils react
- Ask you to follow a moving finger with your eyes
Your doctor may also do the following tests.
- Check to see that you have normal sensation (feeling) throughout your body
- Ask about your hearing and sight
- Get you to walk in a straight line or stand on one leg
- Ask you to touch your nose with your finger while your eyes are shut
- Ask you to answer simple questions
- Ask you to remember a short list for a few minutes and repeat it back
- Ask about your general health, including periods for women, or general growth and development (including puberty) for children
You may think it odd if your doctor asks to examine your breasts, tummy (abdomen) or back passage (rectum). This is because your GP wants to make sure there is no obvious sign of a cancer somewhere else in your body (primary cancer). It is more common for an adult to have a cancer that has spread to the brain from somewhere else (secondary brain tumour) than a tumour that starts in the brain (primary brain tumour).
After your examination, your doctor will refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays if anything appears to be wrong. Even if your doctor can find nothing wrong, you may still need to have more tests if your symptoms suggest you may have a brain tumour. Your GP may send you directly to a specialist. You may be admitted to hospital so that you can have tests done quickly.
If you see a specialist, you will be asked about your medical history, symptoms and general health. The specialist will then do another neurological examination. You may have blood tests and a chest X-ray to check your general health. Then your other tests will be arranged in the outpatient department. Your specialist may want you to have one or more of the following tests.
A CT scan is a computerised scan using X-rays. Brain tumours will usually show up on this type of scan. When you have your CT, you have an injection during or just before the scan. This is called a 'contrast medium'. It is a dye that circulates in your bloodstream to the brain and makes the CT pictures of the brain clearer. There is detailed information about having a CT scan in the section about cancer tests.
MRI is a scan using magnetism. It usually gives the clearest picture of the brain of any type of scan and will almost certainly show up a brain tumour. You usually have an injection of contrast medium (see above) to make the MRI scan clearer.
It is very important to tell your doctor if you have any metal inside your body as this may mean you cannot have an MRI scan. There is detailed information about having an MRI scan in the section about cancer tests.
You may have X-rays to check your general state of health. This will be important if you are diagnosed with a brain tumour because you may need to have surgery or intensive radiotherapy treatment.
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