Brain Cancer Diagnosis

At Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, our highly skilled neuropathology team (experts in nervous system disorders) uses the most advanced techniques to get you a swift and accurate diagnosis. The correct diagnosis helps us create a comprehensive, personalized treatment strategy designed for your specific needs.

Expert brain cancer diagnosis at Allegheny Health Network

At the Cancer Institute, we get you a precise diagnosis as quickly as possible. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Expedited services: You can get numerous tests done on the same day and in one location, to reduce your wait and travel time.
  • Advanced technology: We use the latest tools and procedures to make the diagnosis process as minimally invasive as possible.
  • Compassionate care: We know this is a difficult and stressful time. Our understanding staff is by your side, guiding you and answering your questions. We also offer robust support services to treat the whole person.

Diagnostic imaging scans for brain cancer

In order to diagnose brain cancer, we first ask you about your symptoms. Common symptoms include severe headaches, feeling off balance, weakness on one side of the body, or having a seizure for the first time.

After a physical exam, we use diagnostic imaging tests, including:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A combination of X-rays and computer technology produces detailed images of the brain.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Powerful magnets and radio waves give technicians a detailed picture of the head, brain, and spinal cord.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): This special form of MRI allows us to look at the blood vessels in the brain.
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS): This test is similar to an MRI but instead of providing an image of the brain, it measures radio wave interactions with different chemicals in the brain. It can detect some features of brain tumors that may not be detected on a traditional MRI.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: For this test, we use a small, safe amount of radioactive material. Before the test, we inject a special radioactive sugar solution into your arm. A scanner captures images of your body. We can detect the tumor tissues because they absorb the sugar more than normal tissues do.

Diagnosing brain cancer: brain biopsy

Even though imaging tests can detect a brain tumor, they are unable to tell us the type of cancer and its stage (how severe it is). In order to tell us that information, a surgeon must perform a biopsy to collect the cancer cells so we can examine them under a microscope.

There are two ways to do a brain biopsy:

  • Stereotactic (needle) biopsy: For this minimally invasive outpatient procedure, we:
  1. Give you a local anesthetic or general anesthesia, so you will not feel any pain
  2. Place your head into a rigid frame, to ensure the tumor is precisely targeted and that you don’t make any sudden movements during the procedure
  3. Make a very small incision in the scalp and access the skull using specialized tools
  4. Use an MRI or CT scan to help guide a hollow needle into the tumor to remove small pieces of tissue
  • Craniotomy (open biopsy): If imaging tests show that the surgeon is able to remove the tumor with surgery, the neurosurgeon may not do a needle biopsy. Instead, the team removes all or most of the tumor during an operation. This surgery determines the presence of cancer, its stage, and serves as a treatment at the same time. You will stay at the hospital and be given general anesthesia for this procedure.

Brain cancer treatment

Once we grade and diagnose the tumor, you are ready to begin treatment. You meet with your entire care team within three days of diagnosis. At the Cancer Institute, we use leading-edge practices and technology.

Our advanced treatment options include minimally invasive surgery, Optune®** device, chemotherapy (such as Temodar®***), radiation therapy (including stereotactic radiosurgery), and clinical trials. Find out more about our approach to treating brain cancer.

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.