If your healthcare provider believes you may have brain cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. You should expect to be asked questions about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors and family history of disease. Understanding your background will help your provider make a diagnosis.

He or she will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of your muscle strength, reflexes, balance, coordination and eye and mouth movement. You may have one or more of the following tests.

  • Chest X-ray. Your doctor may recommend an X-ray to determine whether any possible tumors have developed as a result of cancer elsewhere in the body, such as in the lungs.
  • CT scan. This well-known imaging test uses X-ray to create a detailed image of your brain. While it is not used as often as an MRI, a CT scan can allow your team to see where the tumor is and what bone structures are near it. This information is useful when your doctor is planning surgery and for determining whether your tumor has affected your skull.
  • MRI scan. MRIs are the most commonly used imaging test to look for tumors in the brain due to the level of detail they provide. MRI uses radio waves to capture images. Certain types of MRI may also be used to examine blood flow in the brain.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. During a PET scan, small amounts of radioactive substances are injected into the body. The radioactive substance gathers in areas where a tumor has developed. This substance shows up on an image produced by a special camera. This image can help your doctor determine whether abnormalities are likely to be tumors.

During a biopsy, tissue or cells are removed from the brain. This tissue is checked by a pathologist under a microscope. Results from a biopsy help determine if cells are cancer. A biopsy of a brain tumor can either be done as part of a surgery to remove the tumor itself or with a needle through a stereotactic needle biopsy.

A stereotactic needle biopsy is done by a neurosurgeon, who drills a small hole into your skull and inserts a needle to remove a small amount of tissue.

A biopsy may be performed with imaging guidance. Ask your provider about your specific type of biopsy to learn more.

Patients will be contacted after a biopsy by a Markey team member to review results. Further management will be recommended at that time.

When you are diagnosed with brain cancer, it is common to feel a sense of urgency around starting treatment. However, in most cases, there is time to do the needed research to ensure that your diagnosis is correct. That may include getting a second opinion.

Our team of experts works together to diagnose, treat and prevent brain cancer, with a focus on individualized patient care.

Markey is among the best cancer centers in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, when it comes to advanced treatment options, survival rates and experienced providers. As the first and only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Kentucky, Markey can serve many patients each year with rare and common cancers, including brain cancer.

Our specialized team is happy to work with your doctors and communicate to ensure confidence in your diagnosis.

Should I get a second opinion?

A second opinion can help to ensure that you will be getting the latest and most effective therapy for treating brain cancer. The following are common reasons for seeking a second opinion after your initial diagnosis:

  • You are having difficulty understanding your diagnosis.
  • A dedicated team specialized in your cancer type may not be available in your area.
  • There may be uncertainty around the stage of brain cancer.
  • You may want to learn more about different treatment options, including clinical trials and advanced technologies only available at an advanced center like Markey.
  • Your health insurance requires a second opinion before continuing toward treatment.

Questions to ask when getting a second opinion

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may have a lot on your mind. Here a few questions to keep in mind for your doctor when seeking a second opinion:

  • Is there a chance that my medical problem could have a different diagnosis?
  • Are there additional tests I should take before moving forward with treatment?
  • Do you recommend any treatments at this time?
  • What do you expect to happen if I wait or don't have the treatment?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • How long are treatment recovery periods?

For more information, visit these trusted national sources for a variety of additional educational tools and resources:

NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 57 in the nation.