Tests and scans you might have

If your GP or a children's doctor thinks you might have cancer, you'll come to the Oncology Department at Birmingham Children's Hospital where specialist cancer doctors and nurses will find out if you have the illness and, if so, what type it is.

Blood testsSpecialist doctors such as Dr Dave Hobin, a Paediatric Consultant Oncologist, will do some tests and scans to find out exactly what is wrong. Then we'll know what treatment to give you.

There are many different types of test that might be done:

Blood tests

We need to take a sample of your blood because it will tell us quite a few important things about you. Sometimes we can identify a particular kind of cancer just by examining a bit of blood.

We also check blood to make sure the rest of your body's systems are working properly.

Pictures (Imaging)

We take different types of pictures of the inside of your body. It might be a straightforward x-ray or it might be a more detailed kind of image – a CT or MRI scan.

  • CT scan

This uses x-rays to take pictures of inside your body. Having a CT scan involves lying on a bed and your body going through what looks like a giant doughnut or polo mint standing on its side. It doesn't take very long.

You need to stay really still for this scan. That means if you're very young, we may give you medicine to make you go to sleep first so that you don't move.

CT scans are especially good for taking pictures of the chest and lungs.

  • MRI scan

This uses very powerful magnets to take pictures. An MRI scan involves lying on a bed and your body going into a large tube. It can sound quite noisy, so we can give you ear protectors.

You need to stay really still for this scan. That means if you're very young, we may give you medicine to make you go to sleep first so that you don't move.

MRI scans are used mainly to take pictures of all parts of the body apart from the chest and lungs.

  • Bone and MIBG scans

Both these ways of imaging are used to find out if a cancer has spread to anywhere else in the body. Bone scans are done on most types of tumour apart from brain or spine tumours.

We take these pictures using a radioactive dye. A special type of camera passes over your body and takes a picture.

Biopsy

As well as giving you a scan, we may carry out what is called a biopsy. This is when we take away a small piece of the lump we've found inside you so we can look at it under a microscope (like a very powerful magnifying glass) and learn more about it.

Because we have to put a thin tube inside you to get a piece of the lump, we give you medicine so that you go into a special sleep and don't feel anything.

Bone marrow test

This is done while you're having your special sleep for the biopsy. We use a special needle to take a small piece of your bone marrow (the soft, liquid tissue found inside your bones), usually from your pelvis, to see if the cancer has spread.

A central line (Hickman line)

Nearly all children and teenagers have what is called a "central line" fitted in their body to help their treatment work as fast as possible and to tell doctors important information about how they're doing.

A central line is a plastic tube that is put into one of your veins while you are having your special sleep for the biopsy and is designed to stay in your body for quite a long time. The end of it sticks out of your body a little bit – it has wiggly ends to it.

We use this tube to give you treatment called chemotherapy and also to take blood tests.

Other tests before you start your cancer treatment

Before you start treatment, you'll have a kidney test, heart scan and probably a hearing test. This is to make sure that the medicine we are planning to give you isn't going to harm your kidneys, heart or hearing.

Are the tests and scans frightening?

Dr Hobin says they can be a little scary because they're probably things you've never had done before – and most new experiences are a bit frightening.

"But we do everything we can to make you feel less worried," he explains. "We will let you spend time with a play specialist who can help explain your feelings and fears. For example, you can have a look at the MRI scanner so you know what to expect."

Will the tests and scans hurt?

They shouldn't do. If you have a biopsy or an operation, you might feel a little sore for a while afterwards, but we can give you medicines to stop the soreness. For some of the tests we do, you will be asleep so won't feel a thing.

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