Glucocorticoids (GCC) generally are administered to patients with brain tumors to relieve neurological symptoms by decreasing the water content in a peritumoral zone of edema. We hypothesized that diffusion imaging and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values could detect subtle changes of water content in brain tumors and in peritumoral edema after GCC therapy. The study consisted of 13 patients with intra-axial brain tumor, and ADC was measured in the tumor, within peritumoral edema, and in normal white matter remote from the tumor before and after GCC therapy. ADC also was measured in normal white matter in four control patients with no intracranial disease who were treated with GCC for other indications. Conventional MR images showed no visually evident interval change in tumor size or the extent of peritumoral edema in any subject after GCC therapy, which nonetheless resulted in a decrease in mean ADC of 7.0% in tumors (P < 0.05), 1.8% in peritumoral edema (P > 0.05, not significant) and 5.8% in normal white matter (P < 0.05). In patients with no intracranial disease, GCC therapy decreased mean ADC in white matter by 5.4% (P < 0.05). ADC measurement can demonstrate subtle changes in the brain after GCC therapy that cannot be observed by conventional MR imaging. Measurement of ADC proved to be a sensitive means of assessing the effect of GCC therapy, even in the absence of visually discernible changes in conventional MR images.