Kyla Miller Foundation

Joining in the fight to end pediatric brain cancer...
P.O. Box 712     Dillsburg, Pennsylvania  17019
(717) 259-9742 

          Diagnosing Brain Tumors
Diagnosis of brain and spinal cord tumors is done by taking images of the brain and/or spinal cord.  Most brain tumor types can be diagnosed by the region of the brain they are located in and how they look in the images; however, true diagnosis is only obtained through biopsy.  When scanning images of the brain, a substance called contrast (radioactive material) is typically used and is administered intravenously.  Depending on the age of the child, anesthesia may also be required due to the length of time it takes to perform a complete scan of the brain and spinal cord.

Images of the brain and spinal cord are taken using the following types of state-of-the-art equipment:

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan - A CT Scan uses digital geometric processing and ionizing radiation to take two-dimensional images of the brain in very small slices.  These slices can then be put together to create a three dimensional image of the area being looked at.  The CT Scanner rotates around the part of the body being scanned while the patient remains stationary.  CT Scans are typically quick in nature and provide initial information for brain tumor diagnosis.  CT Scans may be performed with or without contrast.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scanning provides detailed images of the body in any plane using a powerful magnetic field to align the nuclear magnetization of hydrogen atoms in water in the body.  Because MRI scanning can provide a much greater contrast between different soft tissues in the body, it shows a much more detailed image versus the CT Scan.  This makes MRI much more useful and reliable in showing anomalies in the brain.  MRI scans may be performed with or without contrast.
Proton Emission Tomography (PET) Scan - PET scans are used to measure important body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar metabolism.  They can also be used when diagnosing cancer, whether the cancer has spread, and what treatment plan might be most effective.  A radioactive substance is injected or ingested into the body where it accumulates in the organs being evaluated.  Gamma cameras used in conjunction with CT-type scanning take pictures of the area and enhance the region to detect anomalies.
Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Imaging (MRSI) - MRSI machines perform virtual biopsies of tumors.  They are especially helpful in determining changes in brain tumors.  The scan is performed on an MRI unit, and it provides information on the chemical activity in the area being scanned.  Some tumors are known to contain high levels of specific chemicals, thus making it possible to determine the size and stage of the tumor.  Contrast is not needed for this type of scan.
Biopsy - Biopsy is the only true method for a complete diagnosis of the type of brain tumor your child may have.  When surgery is possible, the surgeon will take a core sample of the tumor and send it to the laboratory for diagnosis.  The remaining tumor that is removed will also be sent to the laboratory for its pathology report.  Biopsies are not always possible, and doctors must rely on imaging results to make a diagnosis.


Types of Brain Tumors
Support During Treatment
Life After Treatment
Quality versus Quantity of Life
End of Life Issues
Resources (Links)
Open Clinical Trials

Kyla Miller Foundation is a Pennsylvania state registered non-profit organization joining in the fight to end pediatric brain cancer. KMF is named lovingly after
Kyla LeeAnne Miller, a loving and vibrant child who succumbed to glioblastoma multiforme just two days shy of her tenth birthday. 
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