Brain and spinal cord tumours

Having tests

Brain and spinal cord tumours

Having tests

Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.

Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests, what is involved and if there are any costs.

What you need to know

Reasons for tests

Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.

If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.

Brain tumour and spinal cord tumour tests

You may need to have a number of different tests to find out if you have a brain tumour. These can include:

  • physical examination
  • blood tests
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan including other specialised types of magnetic resonance scanning
  • PET scan
  • SPECT (single photon emission computerised tomography) scan
  • lumbar puncture
  • biopsy.

Ask your doctor what tests you will have and if there is any cost involved.

Brain tumour biopsies

This is when a small piece of tissue is taken from the tumour. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to see what type of cells it contains.

Brain tumour biopsies can be taken in different ways:

  • Stereotactic needle biopsy – the neurosurgeon makes a small hole in the skull, and uses a needle to remove a sample of tissue from the tumour. The needle is guided to the right place using 3-D scanning.
  • Surgical or open biopsy – the neurosurgeon makes a larger opening in the skull to remove some or all of the brain tumour, which is reviewed by a pathologist.
  • Biopsy during neuroendoscopy – the neurosurgeon uses small tools to remove pieces of tissue during neuroendoscopy.

The type of biopsy used depends on the location of the tumour.

Mutation testing in brain and spinal cord tumours

A sample of the tumour tissue can be tested by a pathologist to look for particular gene mutations in the cells. The results may help doctors to identify treatment that may work better for that type of tumour.

Most tumour mutation testing is covered by Medicare, but there may be some additional tests the doctors may suggest that will require payment.

What to ask or talk about

Preparing for tests

Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.

Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.

Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.

Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.


Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Getting test results

It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results. 

Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.

It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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