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Childhood Brain Tumor Diagnosis

Early and accurate diagnosis of a childhood brain tumor can increase the chances for successful treatment.

At MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital, our specialized medical team has the depth of experience and expertise that is vital to targeting childhood brain tumors. And we have the most advanced and accurate equipment to pinpoint the exact extent and location of your child’s tumor.

Childhood brain tumor diagnostic tests

If your child has symptoms of a brain tumor, the doctor will examine your child carefully and ask you questions about your child’s and family’s medical history. The doctor also may do a neurological exam to test reflexes, muscle strength, vision and other functions of the brain and spine.

If anything appears abnormal, your doctor may refer your child to a neurologist or neurosurgeon, doctors who specialize in the nervous system.

One or more diagnostic test may be used to find out if your child has a brain tumor and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • X-rays
  • Angiogram to examine blood vessels
  • Bone scan

Biopsy: If imaging tests show an area that may be a brain tumor, a biopsy almost always is necessary for diagnosis. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a small amount of tissue, which is then examined with a microscope. One of the following biopsy methods will be used.

Surgery: A biopsy may be done during surgery in which all or part of the brain tumor is removed. The operation is called a craniotomy. If a tumor is difficult to reach, a CT scan may be used during surgery to locate the tumor precisely. The tissue removed is examined immediately. Sometimes surgery to remove the tumor can be done during the same procedure.

Stereotactic (needle) biopsy: If a tumor is difficult to reach, a CT scan may be used for to place a hollow needle inside the tumor and remove a small amount of tissue.

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

Lumbar puncture or spinal tap: A small amount of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid, which is the clear liquid in and around the brain and spine) is removed with a needle and looked at with a microscope.

Blood and urine tests

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Knowledge Center

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