Having tests for brain tumours
This section on brain tumours is for teenagers and young adults.
Seeing your GP
Your GP will examine you and, depending on your symptoms, they may arrange some tests. Or they might send you to hospital straight away to see a doctor who specialises in problems to do with the brain.
Sometimes a brain tumour is diagnosed after someone has been taken into hospital to check out symptoms that have happened suddenly, like having a fit.
At the hospital
You’ll usually be seen at a hospital with a centre or unit specialising in treating brain tumours.
Your specialist will ask you questions about your symptoms and how you’ve been feeling. They’ll examine the back of your eyes using an instrument with a light on the end of it to check for swelling. Swelling can be a sign of raised pressure in your head.
They’ll usually check:
- your balance
- your coordination
- your muscle strength
- your reflexes
- whether you can feel pinpricks on areas of your skin.
You might also have your eyesight and hearing tested.
You’ll need to have some more tests before a diagnosis is made. Your doctor will select the most suitable tests for your situation. These tests are important because they help your specialist plan the best treatment for you. Your doctor and specialist nurse will explain things to you, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Possible tests include:
- A CT scan or MRI scan – these show a detailed picture of the inside of your head.
- Blood tests – these are done to check your general health and sometimes to measure the level of certain chemicals or hormones in your blood.
- Lumbar punctures – in this test, a small needle is used to collect some fluid from the base of your spine. It is sometimes done to look for cancer cells in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
- X-rays – these might be taken to check your skull and chest.
Having a biopsy
Doctors often need to remove a small part of the tumour (biopsy) to find out exactly what type of tumour it is. The piece of tumour that’s removed is looked at under a microscope by a doctor called a pathologist. The operation will be done under general anaesthetic. This is where you are put into a deep sleep. You’ll probably be in hospital for a few days.
An MRI or CT scan is used to find the exact position of the tumour. The surgeon makes a small hole in the skull and passes a fine needle through it to remove a piece of the tumour.
This is often used to make sure the doctor takes the biopsy from the most appropriate part of the tumour. You will have a head frame fitted that will help guide the surgeon to exactly the right place before they take the biopsy. This is called a stereotactic biopsy.
Tests and waiting for results
Having tests and waiting for results can be scary. Remember – you don’t have to keep your worries to yourself. Talking about how you feel and getting support from family, friends or your specialist nurse and doctor can make it a bit easier. You could also talk to a cancer support specialists on our free helpline.
This information is about having tests for brain tumours. We also have more information about:
If you're looking for information about brain tumours in people of all ages, please see our general brain tumours section.