A computerized tomography (CT) scan of the head is an imaging test that is sometimes used to confirm a brain tumor diagnosis. This noninvasive procedure involves taking a series of X-rays from many different angles. During a CT scan, an X-ray beam moves in circles around the body, capturing many different views of the brain. As such, a CT scan can provide more detailed information about brain tissues and structures than a standard X-ray.
Sometimes, a contrast dye is given to the patient intravenously during a CT scan of the head. The dye will collect around any cancerous cells to provide heightened clarity in the resulting images. A computer then combines the X-rays into a detailed, three-dimensional image that may reveal a tumor or another abnormality, such as bleeding or swelling in the brain.
Why would a CT scan be used instead of an MRI?
In many cases, a brain tumor diagnosis begins with a neurological examination followed by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the head. Because an MRI produces high-quality images of soft tissues and blood vessels, it can be useful for diagnosing a brain tumor. However, a CT scan can provide more detailed images of the bone structures near a brain tumor, such as the skull or spine. A CT scan may also be used to diagnose a brain tumor if the patient has a pacemaker and cannot have an MRI, which involves the use of powerful magnetic fields that can interfere with a pacemaker’s function.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vogelbaum, Program Leader, Department of Neuro-Oncology.
If you would like to learn more about how a CT scan can be used to diagnose a brain tumor, you can talk with a specialist in the Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.