Brain and Spinal Tumors: Diagnosis

Prompt diagnosis is crucial in treating a brain or spinal tumor. Determining whether the tumor is malignant or benign, identifying its source, and finding the total number of lesions will play a part in prognosis. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures may include the following:

Neurological examination

  • Your physician tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination, and alertness.

Computed Tomography Scan (also called a CT or CAT scan)

  • A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

  • A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.


  • A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Bone Scan

  • Pictures or x-rays taken of the bone after a dye has been injected that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumors and bone abnormalitie

Arteriogram (also called an Angiogram)

  • An x-ray of the arteries and veins to detect blockage or narrowing of the vessels.


  • A procedure that uses dye injected into the spinal canal to make the structure clearly visible on x-rays.

Spinal Tap (also called a Lumbar Puncture)

  • A special needle is placed into the lower back into the spinal canal, which is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain is measured and a small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

  • A tiny amount of a radioactive substance, called a radionuclide (radiopharmaceutical or radioactive tracer), is injected into the body to assist in the examination of the tissue under study. PET studies evaluate the energy in a particular organ or tissue, so that information about the functionality, structure, and biochemical properties of the organ or tissue can be collected. This information can help your doctors identify the onset of a disease process before it can be detected by other imaging processes such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS)

  • A procedure that produces images depicting your brain's chemistry and function, allowing your doctor to compare the behavior of normal tissue to abnormal tissue. This procedure uses the same equipment as an MRI and the two procedures are often performed at the same time.