Other diagnostic procedures for brain tumours

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An in-depth description of other diagnostic procedures, such as blood tests and x-rays, which are involved in the medical diagnosis of brain cancer.

Key points

  • Blood work is necessary for all children with brain tumours who are undergoing treatment.
  • X-rays are not done anymore to diagnose brain tumours, but they may be used to provide information in exceptional cases.

Other diagnostic tests and procedures will also be done to help diagnose a brain tumour or provide information. These include blood tests and X-rays.

Blood tests

Blood work is necessary for all children with brain tumours who are undergoing treatment. Blood tests are needed to monitor and prevent side effects, or to adjust treatment modalities. A specific blood investigation is used to help diagnose and monitor a type of brain tumour called a germ cell tumour. Some of these tumours secrete proteins that can be measured in the blood. These proteins are called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG).

To do what 's known as blood work on your child, she will need to have blood taken with a needle at a blood work clinic. The technician who is trained to take blood (called a phlebotomist) will roll up your child 's sleeve and tie an elastic band around the arm, above the area where the blood will be drawn. Then alcohol or antiseptic is rubbed over the vein into which the needle will be inserted.

Blood is drawn into special, small, air-tight tubes called vials which are labelled and sent off for analysis. It doesn't take a long time. The elastic is removed when enough blood is taken to let the blood flow normally. A cotton swab and pressure are applied to the needle site to stop the bleeding, followed by a bandage. For some blood tests, only a finger prick is needed.

For newborn babies, the procedure is different. A blood sample is taken from the heel using a small device called a lancet. The technician will take the smallest possible amount of blood.

Is there any preparation for blood tests?

There is usually no preparation for blood work. If your child needs to stop eating or drinking before the blood test, the nurse or technician will let you know ahead of time.

What is your child being tested for?

If you 're not sure why your child is having a blood test, ask the clinic nurse. For your own peace of mind, it's good to know what 's going on.

Will the needle hurt your child?

A local anaesthetic cream called EMLA (Eutectic Mixture of Local Anaesthetic) may be given to help reduce the pain involved when blood is taken. Your child may experience some minor bruising or throbbing where the needle was inserted. This will disappear in a day or two. Some children or teenagers feel faint when they have blood drawn.

How can you help your child through blood tests?

Getting a needle is not a fun experience for children (or adults, for that matter). And it can be upsetting for many parents to see their children have needles. As a parent, you can help your child by reassuring them while they get a needle. Tell them you will be with them the whole time.

Tell your child that while needles may look frightening, they are not dangerous. Talking calmly to your child will help. Also, giving them a favourite toy to hold onto may make it easier. Taking deep, slow breaths, and having them look away from the needle can also help.

Many children worry about not having enough blood after some has been taken from their arm. You can reassure your child that the nurse is only taking a very small amount of blood, just enough to test it. There is lots of blood left in their body. Our bodies make new blood all the time, so we never run out of blood.

For more information on how to help your child cope with having blood tests, see the "Blood Work" page in the Health A to Z section of this website.


X-rays are not done anymore to diagnose brain tumours. However, they may be used to provide information in exceptional cases.

What is an X-ray?

An X-ray is a type of radiation that passes through the body. It gives the doctor information on the size, shape, and location of the bones and certain organs, in order to help diagnose a condition. It’s also called radiography.

How is the X-ray done?

Your child, wearing a hospital gown, will be asked to stand next to the X-ray film in the hospital radiology department. Younger children may need to be restrained, while older children will be asked to hold still for two or three seconds, so the picture doesn’t blur. The X-ray machine is turned on for a fraction of a second. Beams of X-rays pass through the head to make a picture on the film. Usually an X-ray is taken from the front and then the side. The X-ray film, like regular camera film, is developed in about 10 minutes.

Will the X-ray hurt my child?

No, your child won’t feel a thing. There is very little radiation released through the X-ray so it won’t cause damage to the body. Young children and pregnant women are more sensitive to X-rays so they are sometimes given small protective shields made of lead to prevent the X-ray from going through certain parts of the body.

Last updated: July 10th 2009