Skip to Content

Brain Tumor Diagnosis

If you have a brain tumor, it is important to get the most accurate diagnosis possible. This will help your doctor pinpoint the tumor to give you the most advanced treatment with the least impact on your body.

At MD Anderson, we have the most modern and accurate equipment available to home in on brain tumors and find out exactly how far they may have spread.

Our specialized staff truly sets us apart. The Brain and Spine Center has four renowned neuropathologists who focus only on diagnosing brain and spine tumors. They are an essential part of our team, and their expertise and experience can make a big difference in brain tumor treatment success.

Brain Tumor Diagnostic Tests

If you have symptoms that may signal a brain tumor, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health, your lifestyle and your family history.

One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have a brain tumor and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

Biopsy: While imaging tests may show an area that may be a brain tumor, a biopsy is almost always needed to diagnose a brain tumor. A biopsy may be done by either of two methods.

Surgery: A biopsy may be done during surgery in which all or part of the brain tumor is removed. The operation also is called a craniotomy. If a tumor is difficult to reach, a CT (computed tomography) scan may be used for three-dimensional needle placement (stereotactic biopsy). This helps doctors precisely locate the tumor.

Sterotactic (needle) biopsy: This method may be used if the suspicious area is in a place that makes surgery too risky or difficult.

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • CT (computed tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • PET (positive emission tomography) scan

Lumbar puncture: A small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (clear liquid in and around the brain and spine) is removed with a needle and looked at with a microscope. This test may be done if:

  • Doctors suspect tumor has invaded the layers of tissue that cover the brain (meninges)
  • When the diagnosis or type of tumor is not clear

Brain Tumor Staging

Staging is a way of determining how much disease is in the body and where it has spread. However, staging systems are not used for brain tumors.

While primary brain tumors (that start in or next to the brain) sometimes spread (metastasize) to other parts of the brain or the spine, they usually do not spread to other places in the body.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about brain cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.