Brain cancer diagnosis

If you or a loved one has ever been diagnosed with brain cancer, you know the strain it can put on an individual and the family. Fortunately, there are great doctors and teams of experts that can accurately diagnosis and treat brain cancer, but the outcome of survival depends on the type of cancer, its location, whether or not it can be surgically removed or reduced, and the age and overall health status of the patient. Getting treatment early, of course, is also important, so being able to recognize the symptoms is significant. Here is a little bit about brain cancer.

Types of Brain Cancer
There are two main types of brain cancer or brain tumors. Primary brain tumors (called gliomas and are further divided into subtypes) originate in the brain; they can malignant or benign. Metastatic brain cancer is a type of cancer that has started in another part of the body but has spread to the brain; this type of cancer is malignant.

Symptoms of Brain Cancer
There are many symptoms that can be associated with brain cancer. Some of the most common are headaches that may be worse in the morning, nausea, vomiting, changes in the ability to talk, hear, or see, problems with balance or walking, problems with thinking or memory, impaired judgment, impaired sense of smell, muscle jerking or twitching, and numbness/tingling in the arms or legs.

Diagnosing Brain Cancer
To diagnose brain cancer, the symptoms and a medical history must be evaluated. If a brain tumor is the indication, an assortment of tests will be performed to confirm the diagnosis, including a neurological exam, imaging tests, and biopsies.

Neurological Exam
The physical exam, called the neurological exam, is done by a neurologist; he or she will check vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and reflexes.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
This imaging test is a common diagnostic test for brain cancer. Detailed computer images of the brain at different angles will be produced from electromagnetic energy. Certain things can then be seen, such as edema (swelling) and hemorrhage (bleeding). Sometimes a dye is injected to improve the contrast between abnormal and normal tissue.

Computed Axial Tomography (CT scan)
This type of imaging involves the use of X-rays and a computer to see images of the brain. Most often a dye is injected to improve the contrast between normal and abnormal tissue. It is easier to identify the type of tumor with this type of scan.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan)
This type of scan produces images of physical and chemical changes in the brain by injecting a radiopharmaceutical substance into the brain cells where it can be absorbed; measurements of brain activity are actually determined by the exact concentrations of the substance, and fed into a computer to produce an image. Studying these images helps the physician to evaluate brain function and cell growth. This type of scan can locate a specific location of the brain tumor and detect metastatic and recurrent brain cancer at earlier stages than both MRI and CT scans can.

Brain Biopsy
This is basically the next step. The imaging tests can identify the tumor and where it is located, but the biopsy, which is a careful examination of brain tissue, is the only way to arrive at an exact diagnosis. During a biopsy, a small piece of brain tissue is surgically removed and sent to a lab to be examined by a pathologist. The type of cells seen under the microscope will tell the type of tumor, and how advanced the cancer is if it is of the malignant kind.

This test helps identify blood vessels supplying the tumor. A dye is injected into the arteries that feed the brain, making them visible on X-ray.

Last updated on Jan 24th, 2011 and filed under Cancer Research. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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