Having tests for brain tumours
If you think you might have some of the symptoms of a brain tumour you should go to your family doctor (GP). They'll be able to talk to you about your symptoms, and can arrange tests to find out more or refer you to a specialist doctor.
Seeing your GP
Your GP will examine you and, depending on your symptoms, they will arrange some tests. Or they might send you to hospital to see a doctor who specialises in problems to do with the brain (neurologist or neurosurgeon) straight away.
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 eye with an instrument that has a light on the end of it (ophthalmoscope) to check for swelling. This can be a sign of raised pressure in your head.
They’ll usually check your balance; coordination; muscle strength; reflexes; and if you can feel pinpricks on areas of your skin. You might also need to have your eyesight and hearing tested, as well as some other tests.
You’ll need to have other tests before a diagnosis is made. Tests are important because they help your specialist plan the best treatment for you. Having tests can be scary. Knowing why you’re having them and what happens during them can make it a bit easier.. Your doctor and specialist nurse will explain things to you, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
You’ll usually have some of these tests
- CT scan or MRI scan this will show a detailed picture of the inside of your head
- PET scan this is sometimes used to help find out if a tumour is benign or malignant.
- SPECT (single photon emission computerised tomography) scan this is similar to a PET scan and helps to look at the blood flow through the brain.
- blood tests these are usually done to check your general health
- x-rays these might be taken to check your skull and chest.
Having a biopsy
It’s often necessary for doctors 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 then examined under a microscope by an expert doctor called a pathologist. It means going into hospital for an operation under general anaesthetic - where you're 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 done to make sure the doctors take the biopsy from the part of the tumour that is likely to provide the most information about it. You will have a head frame fitted that will help guide the needle to exactly the right place before the surgeon takes the biopsy. This is called a stereotactic biopsy.
Tests and waiting for results
Having tests and waiting for results can be pretty 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.