Brain Tumor Diagnosis and Imaging

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Brain tumor diagnosis may be an involved process, given the complexity of brain cancer. Several brain tumor imaging or other tests may be necessary to get an accurate diagnosis. At Henry Ford, we have a team of specialized Neuro-pathologists, doctors specifically trained to interpret brain tumors. While brain tumor diagnosis and testing varies by individual, some common initial tests include:

  • Medical history: Your neurologist will ask you specific questions to gain insight into your overall personal and family health history.
  • Neurological exam: This series of tests is designed to assess vision, hearing, smell, touch, balance, reflexes, specific movements, and thinking and memory.
  • Brain tumor imaging: If the results of your medical history and neurological exam indicate a possible brain tumor, one or more brain tumor imaging tests -- such as an MRI or CT scan -- may be ordered.
  • Tests for other tumors: A brain tumor may form in the brain or originate in another part of the body and metastasize (spread) to the brain. Additional tests may be necessary to determine the origin of the original tumor, which affects treatment.

If you are seeking a second opinion at the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center, we will review these initial test results and may order additional specialized tests, including a tumor biopsy (tissue sample).

The latest brain tumor diagnosis tools

A correct diagnosis is essential for determining the most appropriate brain tumor treatment. In addition to reviewing any initial brain tumor imaging studies or other tests, we may order one or more of the following specialized tests:

  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG): An advanced neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity through magnetic fields -- Henry Ford has the only available MEG system in Michigan
  • Electroencephalography (EEG): Measures the electrical activity of the brain
  • 3-D MR spectroscopy: Measures biochemical changes in the brain
    • High-field functional MRI: Provides a detailed picture of brain anatomy and regional activity
  • Genetic tumor typing: Our center is one of few in the country that can analyze a tumor’s DNA and use this information to tailor specific treatments.
  • Neuropsychological assessments: To understand how the cognitive processes and behaviors may be affected by your tumor
  • Speech-language evaluations: Including Wada studies, which map memory and speech
  • Intraoperative MRI (iMRI)Creates a high-resolution imagery of the brain’s anatomy during surgery

After your brain tumor diagnosis

Following your brain tumor diagnosis, our multidisciplinary tumor board will review your case. This group of experts from multiple medical specialties meets to analyze the results from any brain tumor imaging or other tests, and develop a personalized treatment plan based on the genetic make-up of your tumor that meets the needs of you and your family. This treatment plan may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, specialized metastatic treatment or clinical trials.

Brain tumor FAQs

  • What is a brain tumor?

    lab tour brain modelA brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the tissues of the brain, which can place pressure on tissues and impair function. When a mass starts to grow, it is confined to the space within the skull, therefore pushing on vital functions like speech, motor or sensory areas. This mass can also cause the brain’s electrical impulses to misfire, thus causing a seizure. A brain tumor can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

  • What is the difference between a benign brain tumor and a malignant brain tumor?

    A benign brain tumor is slow growing, while a malignant brain tumor is fast growing. The pathologist grades these tumor cells by how many cells within a field are duplicating and other special features.

    Meningiomas are considered in general to be benign brain tumors, but there are also more aggressive forms of meningiomas called atypical or anaplastic meningioma. In addition, some benign brain tumors can turn to more aggressive brain tumors over time. Therefore, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions during your follow-up care.

    All glioma tumors are considered cancerous. However, these are graded by the World Health Organization into four subclassifications ranging from WHO Grade I to WHO Grade IV and also known as a glioblastoma (GBM). WHO Grade IV is the most common and aggressive brain tumor, which most likely will be treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

    There are more than 120 types of brain tumors that are classified as malignant cancerous growths.

  • What is the difference between a primary brain tumor and a metastatic (secondary) brain tumor?

    doctors looking at brain scanA primary brain tumor comes from normal brain cells that grow out of control. Scientists do not know what causes most primary brain tumors. Viruses, defective genes and certain chemicals are all being explored and researched as possible causes, but until the causes have been identified, there is no known way to prevent a brain tumor from developing. Pathologists divide primary tumors into two groups:

    • Glioma tumors (such as astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastomas, and ependymomas)
    • Non-glial tumors that develop from a structure within the brain (such as a meningioma)

    Also known as a secondary tumor, a metastatic brain tumor begins in another part of the body as a primary tumor and spreads through the lymphatic system and bloodstream into the brain. These tumors will be named after the tissue in which their growth began, such as a lung tumor or a kidney tumor. In breast cancer, these metastatic brain tumors can appear small but numerous.

  • What does it mean when a brain tumor is stable?
    When a tumor is stable, it means the tumor is being kept under control by the therapy you are receiving. The brain tumor treatment slows or stops the cells from multiplying or duplicating. This may mean the tumor cells never grow again. However, it also means that there is a chance the therapy will stop working and the tumor will start growing. Stable disease can be a temporary or permanent state.
  • What are recurrent tumors?
    Recurrent tumors are masses that have started to grow again even after treatment. This may occur at various times during your therapy schedule. We evaluate response to treatment by doing clinical assessments of how you are doing and doing frequent MRIs. Recurrence commonly occurs near the original tumor location, although it can also occur in a different part of the brain or spinal cord.
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