Diagnosis of Brain Metastases

Diagnosis of Brain Metastases

Neuroradiologist Robert Young looks at a computer screen.

Experts, such as neuroradiologist Robert Young, evaluate brain tumors that have spread from other parts of the body.

To diagnose brain metastases, your doctor often will:

  • Give you a neurologic (nervous system) exam.
  • Get your medical history.
  • Give you imaging tests.

Imaging Tests

Computed tomography (CT)

During a CT scan, a special machine uses X-rays to take a fast series of pictures from many angles. The X-ray pictures are put together to make 3D images of the brain. These images can show problems, such as tumors in the brain. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An MRI is a test that uses strong magnetic fields to take pictures. It lets us see very detailed images of brain tissue and find small tumors that CT scans may miss. It’s also used to check your response to certain treatments.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

An fMRI helps us map areas of your brain, including centers of speech and motor function. It gives us a clear picture of your condition before we create a personal care plan for you.

The Role of Imaging To Diagnose Cancer 
Our doctors use advanced imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans, to help detect and diagnose disease, make appropriate treatment recommendations, and monitor your response to therapy.


A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) is a procedure to get a sample of your spinal fluid. A pathologist will look at your spinal fluid under a microscope. A pathologist is a doctor who looks at body tissue under a microscope to diagnose disease. Spinal taps can be very useful to help diagnose a type of cancer called neoplastic meningitis (NEE-oh-PLAS-tik MEH-nin-JY-tis). This is when cancer cells invade the cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds your brain and spinal cord.

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A biopsy is rarely used to diagnose brain metastases. During this procedure, a surgeon removes a small tissue sample from your brain. A pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope for signs of cancer.

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