The symptoms of a central nervous system tumor (or brain tumor) depend on tumor size, type, and location. Symptoms may be caused when a tumor or the swelling around it presses on a nerve or important part of the brain. Also, symptoms may be caused when a tumor blocks the fluid that flows through and around the brain or when the brain swells because of the buildup of fluid.
However, these symptoms are often not due to a brain tumor; another health problem could also cause them. If you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctor so that problem can be diagnosed and treated.
A doctor can confirm a diagnosis of a brain or spinal cord tumor based on a patient’s symptoms, personal and family medical history, and results of a physical exam and specialized tests and techniques.
You may have one or more of the following tests:
Neurologic exam: Your doctor checks your vision, hearing, alertness, muscle strength, coordination and reflexes. Your doctor also examines your eyes to look for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the nerve that connects the eye and the brain.
MRI: A large machine with a strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside your head. Sometimes a special dye (contrast material) is injected into a blood vessel in your arm or hand to help show differences in the tissues of the brain. The pictures can show abnormal areas, such as a tumor.
CT scan: An X-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your head. You may receive contrast material by injection into a blood vessel in your arm or hand. The contrast material makes abnormal areas easier to see.
Your doctor may ask for other tests, including:
Angiogram: Dye injected into the bloodstream makes blood vessels in the brain show up on an X-ray. If a tumor is present, the X-ray may show the tumor or blood vessels that are feeding into the tumor.
Spinal tap: Your doctor may remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that fills the spaces in and around the brain and spinal cord). This procedure is performed with local anesthesia. The doctor uses a long, thin needle to remove fluid from the lower part of the spinal column. A spinal tap takes about 30 minutes. You must lie flat for several hours afterward to keep from getting a headache. A laboratory checks the fluid for cancer cells or other signs of problems.
Biopsy: The removal of tissue to look for tumor cells is called a biopsy. A pathologist looks at the cells under a microscope to check for abnormal cells. A biopsy can show cancer, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, and other conditions. A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose a brain tumor, learn what grade it is, and plan treatment.
If you or a loved one received a brain and spine tumor diagnosis and are looking for treatment or a second opinion, make an appointment with one of our cancer doctors. We are conveniently located in Willamette Valley, including Corvallis, Eugene, Florence, and Lincoln City.