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Physical examination

Your doctor asks about your symptoms, including when they started and whether anything you do makes them better or worse. They will also do a physical examination and test your nervous system. A test of your nervous system is also called a neurological examination.

You might have a physical and a neurological examination done by:

  • your GP
  • a doctor in the A&E department
  • a brain tumour specialist in the hospital

Getting ready for your test

There's no special preparation for these tests. You can eat, drink and take your medicines as normal.

Before your test

When you get to the examination room your doctor may ask you to change into a hospital gown. You can have someone with you (a chaperone) whilst you are being examined. Let your doctor know if you feel anxious or uncomfortable about having a physical or neurological examination. 

During your test

Physical examination

Your doctor might:

  • examine your breasts
  • feel and listen to your tummy (abdomen)
  • examine your skin
  • listen to your chest

This is to make sure there is no obvious sign of a cancer somewhere else in your body. It is more common for an adult to have a cancer that has spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body than to have one that starts in the brain.

You can usually get dressed and go home straight after these tests.

Neurological examination

Your doctor might:

  • test your muscle strength by asking you to squeeze your doctor's hands or pushing against their hand with your feet
  • find out if you have any numbness
  • tap your knee with a rubber hammer to check your reflexes
  • shine a light and look into the back of your eyes to see if there are any changes
  • see how you follow commands and see how well you are reading or writing
  • check your hearing

Possible risks

Having a physical examination and testing your nervous system is a very safe procedure. Your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having these tests outweigh any possible risks.

Getting your results

Your doctor can usually tell you straight away if they find any abnormal result. 

Having tests to diagnose a brain tumour can be a worrying time. You can contact your specialist nurse if you’re finding it hard to cope. It can also help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.

More information

We have more information on tests, treatment and support if you have been diagnosed with a brain or spinal cord tumour.

Information and help