The goal of this study was to determine whether presurgical metabolite levels measured by 3D MR Spectroscopic Imaging (MRSI) can accurately detect viable cancer within human brain tumor masses. A total of 31 patients (33 exams, 39 pathology correlations) with brain tumors were studied prior to surgical biopsy and/or resection. The 3D MRSI was obtained with a spatial resolution of 0.2 to 1 cc throughout the majority of the mass and adjacent brain tissue using PRESS-CSI localization. Levels of choline, creatine and NAA were estimated from the locations of the resected tissue and normalized to normal appearing brain tissue. The data were correlated with subsequent histologic analysis of the biopsy tissue samples. Although there were large variations in the metabolite ratios, all regions of confirmed cancer demonstrated significant choline levels and a mean choline/NAA ratio of 5.84 + 2.58 with the lowest value being 1.3. This lowest value is greater than 4 standard deviations above the mean (0.52 +/- 0.13) found in 8 normal volunteers. The choline signal intensities in confirmed cancers were significantly elevated compared to normal appearing brain tissue with a mean ratio of 1.71 +/- 0.69. Spectra with no significant metabolite levels were observed in the non-enhancing necrotic core of the tumor masses. The results of this study indicate that 3D MRSI of brain tumors can detect abnormal metabolite levels in regions of viable cancer and grades and can differentiate cancer from necrosis and/or normal brain tissue.