At the University of Chicago Medicine Brain Tumor Center, we specialize in using sophisticated imaging technology and minimally invasive techniques to determine the location, shape and growth stage of your tumor. Your neuro-oncologist or neurosurgeon is often the first physician you’ll meet from your multi-disciplinary treatment team. Laboratory studies, medical imaging like MRIs and tissue samples obtained through a biopsy are often part of the work-up that helps physicians develop your personalized treatment plan.

Laboratory Studies

Depending on the tumor, your doctor may take a blood sample or fluid from your spine to look for biomarkers that provide more detailed information on your cancer. Examining a tumor’s biomarkers can also help tailor your treatment plan. 

Radiology studies 

Your neuroradiologist may use a number of imaging studies, including computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies, to characterize your tumor. 


Your doctor may decide you need to have a biopsy, a procedure in which a small sample of tumor tissue is taken to help determine the type of brain tumor you have. There are many different types of brain tumors, and they can be assigned a grade from I to IV to explain how aggressive they are. This grading system helps physicians make the most accurate recommendations about the expected behavior of a tumor and how best to treat it. 

There are several types of biopsies your neurosurgeon may consider:

  • Needle biopsies are often used on tumors in parts of the brain or spine that are hard to reach or critically important. For brain tumor biopsies, a special frame may be put on your head to hold it still. Your surgeon will use a thin needle guided by a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to collect tumor cell samples.
  • Open biopsies (craniotomies) are performed through an opening in the skull. During this procedure, the scalp is cut and skull bone removed to access the brain. Often, an early diagnosis is made while you are still in the operating room. An open biopsy may also allow your doctor to remove as much of the tumor as possible.

Once a sample of your tumor has been obtained, your neuropathologist will study its cells under a microscope to help determine the type of tumor it is. This often includes detailed molecular analysis in addition to the microscopic examination. This careful research may sometimes take two to three weeks to complete. When your diagnosis is confirmed, our multidisciplinary team will discuss with you a customized treatment plan.