Diagnostic Care for Cancer Diagnosis

State-of-the-art imaging can help diagnose your child or teen's condition and define the best possible course for treatment. Pediatric-trained radiologists work in concert with hematologists/oncologists to provide tests recommended for your child.

A special focus at Children's is helping your child or teen cope with discomfort that can occur with some tests. We are nationally recognized for our efforts to reduce the severity of side effects that may happen during procedures and treatment.

At Children's, we believe that no child should suffer needless pain. We are known for aggressive management of pain and side effects. Our Pain and Palliative Care Program strives to control acute, chronic and complex procedural pain in both the outpatient and inpatient settings. Our program is nationally recognized and led by our world-renowned pediatric pain management specialist.

This may involve safe sedation, for example, through Children's award-winning nitrous oxide program, the use of imagery and pain control techniques taught by child life specialists, or other services provided through the integrative medicine department. If you have questions or ideas about how to help your child cope with medical procedures, we encourage you to talk with your nurse, nurse practitioner or physician.

Some common tests performed for concerns about cancer or blood disorder diagnosis include:

  • Biopsies. A biopsy is a tissue sample that is examined under a microscope to determine whether abnormal cells are present. There are several types of biopsies. A needle biopsy is taken by inserting a hollow needle under the skin. A sample of tissue is drawn into the hollow part of the needle. Other types of biopsies are removed through a small incision in the skin or through a larger incision made during surgery. Sedation or general anesthesia is used when biopsies are taken.
  • Blood tests. Blood tests are samples of blood used to provide information about the kinds and numbers of cells in the blood. The results help determine diagnosis and treatment.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. In the center of bones is a substance called bone marrow. Blood cells and platelets are manufactured in bone marrow. In a bone marrow aspiration, a needle is inserted in the hip and a syringe is used to withdraw a bone marrow sample. If a biopsy is performed, a small sliver of bone is taken from the same area. A bone marrow sample can reveal problems with the number or quality of blood cells and platelets being made or the presence of cancer cells. Sedation is used when a bone marrow aspiration is performed.
  • Bone scan. A bone scan can detect infections, tumors, weaknesses, and other problems in your child's bones. Your child will receive a small amount of radioactive dye through an intravenous (IV) line before the test begins. In some cases, sedation is used during bone scans to help a child lie still.
  • CT scans. A computed tomography (CT) scan is an x-ray that produces more detailed images of internal organs, bones, and other tissues than a regular x-ray can.
  • Genetic tests. There are many types of genetic tests, which typically are performed as part of care provided in conjunction with Children's genetic program. Usually the tests are performed on a sample of blood, hair, skin, saliva, or amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds a fetus during pregnancy.) Laboratory professionals use the samples to look for changes in chromosomes, DNA, or proteins.
  • Lumbar puncture. A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, involves a needle inserted between the vertebra of the spine in order to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Cerebrospinal fluid is helpful in determining whether cancer is present and/or how cancer treatment is progressing. Sedation or sometimes anesthesia is used for lumbar punctures.
  • Magnetoencephalogram (MEG) is a non-invasive test that maps the brain's electrical activity. For people with seizures it can pinpoint where the seizures are coming from and plot the areas onto a picture of your brain from an MRI. This allows neurologists to locate important areas of brain functions including motor, sensory and language. This kind of mapping is especially important when removing brain tumors.
  • MRIs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides detailed images of the body and more clearly shows the soft tissues of the body. At Children's, hematologists and oncologists work closely with radiologists to provide fast, highly-detailed images, which minimizes the time children must remain still and hold their breath during the MRI exam. Intra-operative MRI and 3 Tesla MRI are also available at Children's. Read a story about Intra-operative MRI at Children's in Children's Practice Magazine.
  • Functional MRI. This is a type of non-invasive, specialized brain and body scan is used to map cell activity in the brain or spinal cord by imaging changes in blood flow. This is done before tumor removal surgery to pinpoint the location of important brain functions close to the tumor.
  • PET scans. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan can help determine how well organs and tissues are functioning by highlighting chemical activity in the body in light or dark colors on a PET image. PET scans also can help determine whether cancer has spread to another part of the body. Often, PET and CT scans are performed together.
  • Video Electroencephalography (Video EEG). During this test used to learn more about seizure activity, an EEG is done while being watched by a video camera. It is a painless, safe way to record the electrical activity in the brain and the child's physical activity at the same time.
  • X-rays. X-rays play an important role in detecting many types of cancer and can help determine whether cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Contact us

If you are a family member looking for a Children's hematologist/oncologist or wanting to schedule an appointment, call the outpatient clinic at Children's – Minneapolis at (612) 813-5940.

If you are a health professional looking for consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).