Having tests for primary brain tumours

This section is for teenagers and young adults. It is about tests for tumours that start in the brain (called primary brain tumours). 

We have information for people of all ages about brain metastases. These are tumours that start somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain.

If you have symptoms

Some people are diagnosed with a brain tumour at hospital, after having a seizure (fit) or other sudden symptoms. Others go to see their GP about symptoms they are having. 

If your GP thinks you may have a brain tumour, they may arrange for you to have a brain scan. Or they may send you to see a doctor who is a specialist in brain disorders (a neurologist). People with brain tumours have treatment in specialist hospitals. You may have to travel to your nearest one.

At the hospital

Your specialist will ask you questions about your symptoms and how you have been feeling. They may check your tummy area (abdomen) and listen to your chest.

They will also do a check of your nervous system, called a neurological examination. This includes simple questions to check your thinking and memory. You may also have hearing and eyesight tests. Your specialist may also:

  • ask you to walk a few steps or do some simple actions to check your balance and movement
  • check the strength of your arms and legs by asking you to push against something
  • check your reflexes by tapping your arms and legs
  • check if you can feel pinpricks on your skin, or feel the difference between hot and cold
  • check the movement of your face and eyes
  • shine a light at the back of your eye to check for swelling – a sign of increased pressure in the skull.

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'I was turning 18 and going out partying. It’s not a time you want to be ill. You want to be fighting fit and enjoying life'

Having tests for a brain tumour

Your doctor or nurse will explain any tests you need. The results will help your doctor plan the best treatment for you. Your doctor and nurse will explain what to expect. But don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Your tests may include:

  • an MRI scan, which uses magnetism to build a picture of the brain
  • a CT scan, which uses a series of x-rays, to build a three-dimensional picture of the brain
  • blood tests, to check your general health and sometimes measure the level of certain chemicals or hormones in your blood
  • a lumbar puncture, to look for cancer cells in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord
  • eye tests, to check your eyesight.

Having a biopsy

You may need to have a biopsy to find out the type of brain tumour you have. This is when your doctor removes a small part of the tumour. You often have a brain tumour biopsy while having surgery to remove the tumour.

We have more details about having a biopsy and surgery in the treatment section.

Waiting for results

Having tests and waiting for results can be scary. Remember, you don’t have to hide your worries. You could try talking to or getting support from family and friends or your specialist nurse and doctor. You could also talk about how you feel to a cancer support specialist on our free helpline, or you can email us.

Driving after diagnosis

You may have to stop driving, or learning to drive, for a time after your diagnosis. This mainly depends on the type and grade of brain tumour you have. It can also depend on other things. These things include:

  • whether you have had seizures
  • the treatment you are having
  • the type of driving license.

This can be frustrating but it is important to follow the advice you are given.

It is also important to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) about your diagnosis. If you do not tell them, you are breaking the law.

In England, Scotland or Wales contact the DVLA or call 0300 790 6806.

In Northern Ireland contact the DVA or call 0300 200 7861.

After treatment, you may be allowed to start driving again depending on your symptoms and most recent scans. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice about your situation. Some people are allowed to drive as soon as they recover from treatment. Others may be allowed to drive one or two years after treatment ends.

Our general primary brain tumour section has more information written for adults of all ages. The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group has information about brain tumours in children.

Back to Brain tumours