How primary brain tumours are diagnosed

Many people are diagnosed with a brain tumour after being taken to hospital following a seizure (fit) or other sudden symptoms. Other people go to see their GP about symptoms.

If your GP thinks you may have a brain tumour, they may arrange for you to have a brain scan. Or they may refer you directly to a doctor who specialises in brain disorders (a neurologist). People with brain tumours are treated in specialist hospitals. You may have to travel to your nearest one.

Your specialist doctor will ask you about your general health, any previous medical problems and your family history. They may do a general physical examination to check your tummy area (abdomen) and listen to your chest.

Your doctor will also do a check of your nervous system, called a neurological examination. They will usually:

  • ask you simple questions to check your thinking, reasoning and memory
  • ask you to walk a few steps or do repeated movements to check your balance and co-ordination
  • check the strength of your arms and legs by asking you to push against something
  • check your reflexes by tapping your arms and legs
  • see if you can feel pinpricks on your skin, or can tell the difference between hot and cold
  • shine a light at the back of your eye to see if there is any swelling, which can be a sign of increased pressure in the skull
  • check your hearing.

Your doctor will explain which other tests you need. This can be a difficult time and you may feel very anxious. Your doctor is there to give you and your family information and support. Let them know if there is anything you don’t understand or if you have other questions.

If you are having tests as an outpatient, you can usually go home soon after they are finished.

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Risk factors and causes

There are some risk factors that increase the chances of developing a primary brain tumour.