Childhood Cancers Screening and Diagnosis
Doctors can use many different tests to diagnose cancer in children. There are several factors your child’s doctor will consider when deciding how to proceed with childhood cancer screening:
- Your child’s age and overall health
- Your child’s cancer symptoms
- The type of cancer your doctor thinks may be present
Your doctor will also take into account the results of any previous medical tests your child has already had done.
At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, our care team offers the most advanced and state-of-the-art diagnostic and imaging tests for precise cancer diagnosis and screening. We have the latest technology and leading experts to read the imaging results. We also offer multiple convenient locations across the Kansas City region so you can find the best care for your child close to home.
How are childhood cancers diagnosed?
Tests to diagnose cancer in children can not only find cancer, but can also reveal whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to another part of the body. Sometimes, screening can also show which treatments could work best to treat your child’s particular type of cancer.
Imaging tests and other procedures and tools that can help your doctor determine a childhood cancer diagnosis include:
- Biopsy: During a biopsy, your doctor removes a small amount of tissue from the affected area to have a pathologist examine under a microscope. Often, imaging tests (such as a CT scan or MRI) used at the same time can help guide the biopsy.
- Blood tests: Blood tests can show abnormalities in the blood that could indicate cancer, such as changes in the amounts of certain types of blood cells.
- Bone marrow aspiration: Often performed at the same time as a biopsy, a bone marrow aspiration removes a small portion of bone marrow fluid for further study by a pathologist. A common site for this procedure is the pelvic bone.
- Lumbar puncture: Like bone marrow aspiration, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) also uses a needle to remove a small amount of fluid. However, the fluid that’s removed is called cerebral spinal fluid and comes from the spine. A spinal tap can show tumor markers for children with certain types of cancers as well as other indications that cancer may be present.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses ultrasonic waves (sound waves) to create a picture of the internal organs and soft tissues.
- Computed tomography: A CT scan uses X-rays taken from different angles and combines them using computer imagery to create a 3D image. This type of scan can show abnormalities like tumors and also measure a tumor’s size.
- Magnetic resonance imaging: An MRI creates images using magnetic fields rather than X-rays. Giving a contrast medium before the scan can help create a more detailed picture.
- Positron emission tomography: Often combined with a CT scan, a PET scan can show cancer cells that absorb a radioactive substance called a tracer. Cancer cells are very active so they absorb more of the tracer than noncancerous cells.
If needed, your care team will administer medication (an anesthetic and/or sedative) to help your child feel comfortable before testing. Your doctor can use these tests to initially diagnose and stage the cancer, and may also repeat them during and after treatment to measure how well the treatment is working.