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Pediatric Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Kids are more than just our patients; they’re our priority. Putting children first shapes how we think about care, create plans for treatment and support families every step of the way. Lean on us during this journey to help provide peace of mind and alleviate fears.

Signs and Symptoms of Pediatric Cancer

Cancer is not common in children so signs and symptoms of cancer may be difficult to detect. Consult your pediatrician if you notice any of the following with your child:

  • Unusual lump or bump
  • Ongoing pain
  • Bruising easily
  • Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms may be linked to other health issues and are not always a sign of cancer. If your child’s pediatrician believes cancer may be causing these symptoms, there are diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause.

Pediatric Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Depending on your child’s symptoms, one or more of the following diagnostic procedures may be performed to help our team confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis:

Blood tests: Your pediatric oncologist may order a blood test to look for signs of infections or toxins within the blood. Running blood tests can also help rule out any other conditions or causes that present the same symptoms. Our team will collect a blood sample from a vein in the arm. This blood sample will then be tested to get a better look at overall health.

Bone marrow biopsy: Bone marrow is a soft tissue that lives at the center of large bones and makes blood cells. A bone marrow biopsy is performed to understand if your child’s body is producing enough blood cells and can also be used to diagnose cancers such as leukemia or other blood disorders.

Lumbar puncture: This procedure, also known as a spinal tap, uses a needle placed between vertebral bones in the lower back to remove cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This test can be used to help rule out infections around the brain and spinal cord, as well as to detect brain tumors or leukemia.

X-rays: This imaging test uses radiation that goes through the body to take images of bones and other parts of the body. X-rays are painless and imaging tests that can help detect cancer in bones and organs.

CT scan: A computerized tomography scan (CT scan) is an x-ray that can view a specific part of the body from various angles. This scan combines the images to get a comprehensive picture of a tumor’s location, shape and size. Your child will lie on a table that slides into the CT scan machine. Once in the machine, x-ray images are taken and sent to a computer where pediatric oncologists can better detect and diagnose the tumors. CT scans use a low dose of radiation.

MRI: An MRI is a non-invasive imaging test used to show detailed images of internal organs and can help detect how far cancer has spread. Your pediatric oncologist may order this test to get a better understanding where the cancer is within the body. Understanding the location of the cancer and if it has spread will help the pediatric oncologist create a personalized treatment plan specific to your child. This type of imaging uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create the images. MRIs are radiation-free and completely safe. Your child will lie on a table that slides into the MRI tube. While this test is painless, the MRI tube does make loud noises as the magnetic and radio waves create the image. Our team of experts will be close by to make sure your child is safe and comfortable throughout the duration of this imaging test.

Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to take images of internal organs. While an ultrasound does not use radiation, they do use sound that travels and bounces off denser surfaces. The image that is produced is called a sonogram.

Tumor biopsy: A pediatric oncologist may request a tumor biopsy if the tissue in question is abnormal. This test will determine if the tissue is healthy or abnormal. Your child will likely have the biopsy under general anesthesia and it will be performed by a trained pediatric surgeon. The biopsy sample will be sent to the pathology laboratory and will be evaluated by a pathologist.

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can be unnerving for both you and your child. Once your child has been diagnosed, we work with you to create a treatment plan that is customized to their condition and needs. The team at Banner Children’s is here to provide tailored care and support throughout this journey. Through our care, we create hope for kids and their families. We help turn fear into the courage to take on tough challenges, together.