Diagnosing Astrocytoma

A diagnosis of astrocytoma will begin with a physical exam, during which a doctor will ask about symptoms and learn an individual’s history, including past illnesses and treatments, along with family history. The physician will check reflexes, balance, coordination, and muscle strength, and may order a blood test that includes a pituitary hormone test. The doctor may also ask a series of questions to check a person’s mental status.

Hearing and various vision tests may be performed.  A field-of-vision exam will determine the total area over which a person can see objects when looking straight ahead, as well as assess peripheral vision, or how much a person can still notice in other directions while looking straight ahead. Problems with vision may provide clues about the part of the brain affected by an astrocytoma.

If a doctor suspects a brain tumor, the next steps are usually imaging tests and other diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the tumor type, size, location, and speed of growth. These tests may include:

  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images that reveal the location of a tumor and which parts of the brain or spine are involved.
  • An MRI with contrast is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of the brain and spinal cord. A substance called gadolinium (the “contrast”) is injected into a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture.
  • Advanced MRIs include magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) spectroscopy, which compares the chemical composition of normal brain tissue with abnormal tumor tissue, or perfusion MRI, which shows the amount of blood in an area of the brain (active areas take up the most blood, normal areas may take up lower amounts).
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) are techniques that may be used in surgical planning (called brain mapping) to help safely remove the astrocytoma without affecting healthy brain tissue. .

A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging technique in which a computer reads X-rays to create a three-dimensional map of soft tissue or bone. These scans are most useful for rapid diagnosis of a brain tumor when one is suspected.

A biopsy, in which a neurosurgeon removes a sample of tissue for testing, can provide a definitive diagnosis. For brain tumors, a needle is guided by a computer to remove the tumor sample. A pathologist will analyze the cells under a microscope to determine the tumor type, and a neurosurgeon may remove the tumor during the same surgery. A specialized test of the tumor cells from the biopsy, known as immunohistochemical staining, is used in the diagnosis of cancer cells to detect and view components of the tumor. 

Our Care Team

  • Chairman and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief
  • Margaret and Robert J. Hariri, MD ’87, PhD ’87 Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Vice Provost of Business Affairs and Integration
Phone: 212-746-4684
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist
  • Alvina and Willis Murphy Associate Professor, Neurological Surgery
  • Director, Brain Metastases Program
  • Co-director, William Rhodes and Louise Tilzer-Rhodes Center for Glioblastoma
Phone: 212-746-1996
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Leon Levy Research Fellow
  • Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute
Phone: 646-962-3389
  • Assistant Professor, Neurological Surgery
Phone: 718-670-1837
  • Director, Neurosurgical Radiosurgery
  • Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
  • Robert G. Schwager, MD ’67 Education Scholar, Cornell University
Phone: 212-746-2438
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens
Phone: (718) 670-1837
  • Vice Chair for Clinical Research
  • David and Ursel Barnes Professor in Minimally Invasive Surgery
  • Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
  • Director, Center for Epilepsy and Pituitary Surgery
  • Co-Director, Surgical Neuro-oncology
Phone: 212-746-5620
  • Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
Phone: 718-780-5176
  • Director of Neuro-oncology
  • Director, Brain Tumor Center, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center
Phone: 646-962-2185

Reviewed by: Rohan Ramakrishna, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2020

Weill Cornell Medicine Brain & Spine Center 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787