Brain Tumor Program: Diagnosing Brain Tumors

When there’s a chance you may have a brain or spine tumor, you want to know that your diagnosis is accurate. UC Irvine Health specialists use sophisticated diagnostic tests, including the latest imaging technology, to provide you with a precise diagnosis and help develop an effective treatment plan.

If there is a tumor, we work alongside experts from the brain and spine tumor program to meticulously plan your treatment. After treatments are complete, additional imaging tests let us know how well it worked or if a tumor is coming back.

Expert brain tumor diagnosis

Our team includes leading experts in capturing and reading diagnostic tests, leading to precise diagnoses. After a comprehensive evaluation and discussing your symptoms with you, we use advanced diagnostic tests to identify problems in the brain tissue.

Highlights of our diagnostic capabilities include:

  • Latest technology: Our brain imaging research program is advancing care and treatment for brain and spine tumors. We have one of the most precise nuclear imaging scanners, which allows us to see fine details of the tumor.
  • Expert radiologists: Our chief neuroradiologist, Anton N. Hasso, MD, is an internationally recognized expert. In addition to leading multiple neuroradiology professional societies, Hasso has decades of clinical trial experience in improving brain and spine imaging techniques.
  • Precision diagnosis: We have one of the few neuropathologists in the region, Ronald C. Kim, MD. A neuropathologist is a physician who specializes in examining brain and spine tissue samples (biopsies). Kim’s experience examining more than 300 brain tumor biopsies every year helps our team accurately diagnose rare tumors, such as primary central nervous system lymphoma. Learn more about the types of tumors we treat.
  • Personalized treatment plans: Information we collect through diagnostic testing helps our team of specialists create tailored and effective treatment plans. For example, we may learn that a tumor is growing faster than expected and would be best treated with specific medications (chemotherapy). Learn more about brain and spine tumor treatments.

Brain and spine tumors: imaging tests we perform

Imaging tests provide high-resolution pictures of brain or spine tissue and surrounding structures. We use imaging tests to determine the size and location of the tumor.

Imaging tests available through our program include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: CT scans use X-rays to produce three-dimensional images of the brain or spinal cord. Unlike a typical X-ray test, which takes one picture, CT scans use a special machine that takes multiple pictures (slices) of the brain or spinal cord as it rotates around your body. Learn more about CT brain scans ›
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses a tunnel-shaped machine along with radio waves and strong magnets to produce detailed images of the brain and spine soft tissue. These images are often crisper and provide more detail than a CT scan. Watch this video to learn more about magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) ›
  • Functional MRI (fMRI): We use fMRI to determine how close tumors are to areas of the brain that control critical functions, such as movement and speaking. The fMRI uses a more rapid scanning technique than other imaging tests and can detect tiny blood flow changes in active parts of the brain. We use this information when we plan your treatment to avoid these areas during surgery.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: We use PET scans to determine how quickly a tumor is growing. During a PET scan, we inject a safe radioactive substance with sugar into the blood. We use special imaging scans to watch as the brain cells absorb the sugar. Since tumor cells grow faster than normal cells, they will absorb more of the sugar. This test helps us confirm that there is a tumor and whether it is likely to spread. Learn more about PET scans ›
  • Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI): DTI is an advanced form of MRI used to understand complex nerve networks near the tumor. Also known as fiber tracking, this test helps us map important nerve connections in the brain in order to avoid them during surgery.
  • Magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy: Undergoing MR spectroscopy is similar to an MRI. Unlike MRI, which uses imaging to examine the shape of a tumor, MR spectroscopy examines the brain tumor’s chemical makeup. We use MR spectroscopy to learn more about the tumor and how it is responding to treatment.
  • Cerebral angiography: This test, also known as an arteriogram, is an X-ray of the blood vessels within the brain. Angiography helps us determine whether a tumor is affecting the blood supply to the brain. Learn more about cerebral arteriograms ›

Brain tumors: additional diagnostic tests we perform

We use non-imaging tests to confirm or rule out certain types of tumors, to study how the tumor may be affecting your normal function and to determine whether you are at risk of complications. Our testing capabilities are so accurate, we can detect even the slightest changes in everyday functioning.

Non-imaging tests include:

  • Neurologic exam: This test helps us determine whether a tumor is causing changes in brain function. During a neurologic exam, we ask you questions and have you perform simple tasks to assess your vision, coordination and balance, as well as detect changes in your mood or behavior.
  • Biopsy: We examine a sample of brain tumor tissue (biopsy) under a microscope to rule out or confirm a brain tumor diagnosis. We may also be able to determine how likely it is for the tumor to grow, which can help us plan your treatment.
  • Lumbar puncture: During a lumbar puncture, we insert a hollow needle in the lower part of your back (lumbar section) and take a sample of spinal fluid. We use this test in patients with possible primary central nervous system lymphoma to look for signs of infection or rule out other medical conditions. Learn more about getting a lumbar puncture ›
  • Eye exam: Tumors located near your eyes, such as pituitary tumors, can affect your vision. You may receive an eye exam to see if the tumor or treatments have the potential to cause vision problems. Our team includes eye experts (neuro-ophthalmologists) who specialize in caring for brain tumor patients. Learn more about UC Irvine Health eye care services ›
  • Blood and urine tests: Testing a small sample of your blood or urine helps us understand whether your hormone levels are too high or too low.

Contact Us

To schedule an appointment, call 714-456-8000 or fill out an online request form. You may also send us an email.

Our 24-hour promise: If you are a new patient, one of our brain tumor physicians will return your call within 24 hours and you can be seen in our offices within 48 hours after insurance approval.