The following tests and procedures may be used to find (diagnose) brain tumors:
Neurological examination – Helps doctors find the cause of a patient’s symptoms, and provides a standard way to monitor any change in how patients fare throughout their treatment. This may include a medical history, a complete screening of neurological function, diagnostic tests, electrodiagnostic tests and blood tests.
CT scan (computed tomography) – An X-ray procedure that creates detailed, highly accurate cross-sectional body images.
PET scan (positron emission tomography) – An imaging test used to "light up" cancer in different parts of the body. A short-lived radioactive substance is injected prior to the scan. Cancerous tissue will absorb more of the substance, and appear brighter than normal tissue on the PET images. Other non-cancerous tissues, such as areas of inflammation, may also “light up.”
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An imaging technique that provides detailed images of body structures. It uses a magnetic field instead of the X-rays used in a CT scan.
Biopsy – Your physician will remove cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
Angiography and MRI angiography (MRA) – These procedures actually map blood vessels in the brain. The angiography involves injecting dye into an artery. The MRA does not require an intra-arterial injection.
Single photon emission tomography (SPECT) – In this test, which is similar to a PET, a camera measures the rate of radioactive material as it is emitted through the brain. This allows doctors to detect and locate brain tumors, and determine their reoccurrence after therapy.
Once a cancer has been diagnosed, it is very important for doctors to find out where the cancer may have spread (the “stage” of the cancer) to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.
To find out, doctors use staging tests, which include:
- Different types of scans
- Different ways to take tissue samples to look for tumor cells microscopically (biopsy tests)
Treatments & Therapies
Treatment for brain tumors varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, embolization, radiation or new immunotherapy to treat or control your cancer.
Surgery – Surgery to remove a brain tumor, called a craniotomy, is performed by a specially trained neurosurgeon. The surgeon opens the skull, and removes as much tumor as safely possible during surgery.
Radiation Therapy (“Radiotherapy”) – Radiation therapy involves using X-rays and other types of medical radiation. Aimed at specific parts of the body, it is used to kill cancer cells, prevent cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improve many of the symptoms caused by cancer. It can be used together with chemotherapy for certain cancers (this is called “chemo-radiotherapy”).
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves using drugs proven to slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. This may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often applied in three or four week cycles. Your medical team may also prescribe other drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.
Clinical Trials – Your medical team may also recommend that you participate in a clinical trial. University of Colorado Hospital conducts hundreds of clinical trials in an ongoing effort to discover and deliver more effective treatments. Participants in clinical trials often have access to drugs, vaccines and new kinds of treatment years before they are widely available.
Other therapies being tested through clinical trials:
- Biologic therapy (biotherapy or immunotherapy) – These are treatments that join with the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances – some made by the body, some made in a laboratory – help boost, direct or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer.
- Radiosensitizers – These are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation, and help radiation kill more tumor cells.
- Hypofractionated radiation therapy – When necessary, your caregivers may advise using radiation therapy in higher-than-usual doses over a shorter number of days.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery – A radiation therapy technique that delivers radiation directly to the tumor can minimize damage to healthy tissue. This procedure does not involve surgery.