Visiting a doctor to discuss a possible diagnosis of brain cancer may be daunting. Because symptoms may be a result of brain cancer, or another disorder, this can be a worrying time, regardless of what is the actual cause of the symptoms. You can initially visit your primary care physician to first begin discussing symptoms. Depending upon symptoms, your primary care physician may then recommend you to a specialist, such as an oncologist or a neuro-oncologist if necessary.
During your first meeting with an oncologist or neuro-oncologist, you will probably begin with a full account of your medical history, and the symptoms that you are experiencing. Your doctor will then recommend a particular diagnostic test based on several factors, specifically:
Thereafter, your doctor may recommend one of the following diagnostic tests:
Blood tests - doctors use blood tests to identify tumour markers, indicators of possible cancer. However, false negatives (a test showing that there is no cancer, even though there is) are possible.
Biopsy - using a needle, a sample of the tumour is removed for examination by a pathologist. Or, during surgery, a sample of the tumour is taken. This sample will then be examined for cancer cells.
Computer topography scan (CT scan) - this test involves taking several x-rays of the head; the x-ray machine is connected to a computer to provide greater detail than a normal x-ray. Doctors may also inject dye into the body which will exaggerate abnormalities so that they show up more easily.
Lumbar puncture - A doctor may use a lumbar puncture (or, spinal tap) to examine cerebrospinal fluid for cancer cells, and other indicators of both cancer and other disorders.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - magnetic resonance imaging produces highly detailed images of the interior of the body by using a powerful magnet. Dye may be used to exaggerate possible abnormalities.
Resonance spectroscopy - this test uses an MRI to provide information about the chemical composition of the brain, which allows a doctor to distinguish between dead cancer cells (from previous radiation treatments) and new tumour cells.
Neurological exam - your doctor may manual perform multiple neurological tests which check sight, hearing, reflexes, muscle strength, and more.
Positron emission tomography (PET): A positron emission tomography is not normally used to diagnose brain cancer, but may complement other diagnostic tests. During this procedure, a device rotates around the head after a radioactive sugar has been injected. Detailed images are taken with the radioactive sugar helping to highlight areas of the brain.
Other tests - other diagnostic tools may be used also. These are typically variations of imaging devices that may be used either as primary diagnostic tools, or to provide complementary information.
Once your doctor determines that cancer exists, treatment can begin. To learn more about brain cancer treatments, read here for additional information.