Carotid Body Tumors

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Diagnosing and Treating a Carotid Body Tumor

A doctor who suspects a carotid body tumor from a physical exam may order a Doppler ultrasound first to see if there is a detectable tumor.  A computerized tomography (CT) scan may also be used to confirm the presence of the tumor.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are excellent tools for diagnosing a carotid body tumor, as they can produce detailed images of the blood vessels as well as the tumor itself.

Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) scans are the best tools for diagnosing a carotid body tumor. An MRA uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio waves to create detailed images of the blood vessels and the tumor.  An MRA is an MRI combined with an angiogram, which allows a radiologist and neurosurgeon to examine the blood vessels as well as the tumor. CT angiograms and magnetic resonance angiograms provide excellent diagnostic views of a carotid body tumor.

Carotid body tumors may be treated with either surgery or radiation, depending on the size of the tumor and the age and health of the patient. Often, a neurosurgeon will recommend pre-operative embolization of the tumor to cut off its blood supply, making the procedure easier and decreasing the amount of blood loss during surgery (see Surgery for Carotid Body Tumors).

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Reviewed by Jared Knopman, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2014