It's believed close to 70,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a cancerous or non-cancerous brain tumor this year. Even if they're removed, there's a chance the tumors could come back. Doctors are now using a new way to figure out if a dangerous tumor is regrowing or if something else is going on in the brain.
I have a tumor the size of a goose egg right here in my head," said Mary Grace.
After radiation therapy, she had that benign tumor removed from her brain. Then, a new mass popped up in the same spot.
Radiologist Doctor Robert Kagan believed it was one of two things.
"The question here was, is this a malignant tumor caused by the radiation or is this an effect of the radiation," Dr. Kagan wonders.
Tissue damage caused by radiation and cancerous tumor cells look alike, but... "the chemical composition of radiation necrosis is a lot different than a malignant tumor," he said.
The doctor was able to determine the chemical make-up of Mary's mass with MR spectroscopy. Without an invasive biopsy or injecting dye, he uses an advanced MRI machine to figure out if the growth is cancerous. The ratio of various brain chemicals lead to a diagnosis.
"And that shows you that it is necrosis and not a tumor."
Mary's cancer scare has passed and the benign brain mass is safely removed. "And now my synapses are firing. It's like a Gatling gun." Doctor Kagan has one of about 200 MRI machines capable of performing state-of-the-art MR spectroscopy in the United States.
Others are located at places like Mayo Clinic, Duke University and Stanford University Medical Center. The test is not covered by insurance at this time and could cost you about 900 dollars. The doctor says MR spectroscopy is also being used to detect breast and prostate cancers in clinical trials.