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Diagnostic Imaging for Childhood Cancer

  • Diagnostic imaging for pediatric cancer requires the use of specialized techniques and equipment to obtain pictures of the interior of the body, including soft tissues, organs and bones. For children with cancer, imaging studies are used to diagnose and stage tumors, evaluate and characterize masses, determine if the cancer has spread, establish which parts of a tumor are growing fastest, and – by monitoring a tumor’s response to treatment – to guide state-of-the art treatment in addition to facilitating novel, experimental therapies.

    Types of Imaging Procedures

    Patients may require one of many different imaging procedures, all of which can be performed at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, including:

    • X-ray – a quick, painless test that produces images of structures inside the body, especially the lungs, bones and some solid organs.
    • Fluoroscopy – a special X-ray technique that obtains moving, real-time images of the inside of a child’s body.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses strong electromagnets, radio frequency waves and powerful computers to generate 3-D images of the body’s organs, tissues and bones. MRI does not involve any ionizing radiation.
    • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) – a non-invasive procedure that uses X-ray equipment and powerful computers to create detailed, cross-sectional images (slices) of a child’s body.
    • Single photon emission tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) – non-invasive diagnostic techniques that use specific radiotracers to provide highly detailed images of the body and measure body functions such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar metabolism to help evaluate how a child’s tissues or organs are functioning, and how cancers are responding to therapy.
    • Ultrasound – the use of variable frequency sound waves and their echoes to produce cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
    • Nuclear medicine and molecular imaging – the use of short-lived radiopharmaceuticals (tracers) and specialized cameras to show blood flow, and functional and metabolic activity within organs and lesions.

    In addition, interventional radiologists use imaging tools such as fluoroscopy, CT, and MRI as a minimally invasive way of diagnosing and treating pediatric tumors. Interventional radiology is routinely used to manage abnormal blood vessels, perform biopsies, and as an alternative to surgery to treat blood clots and to provide minimally invasive therapy for certain tumors.

    Imaging Services for Childhood Cancer

    We use the latest imaging technologies, including pediatric PET/CT scans to assist in early diagnosis, staging, treatment, and follow-up of many types of childhood cancer.

    Our radiologists are an integral part of the patient care team and have expertise in the conditions we treat. This expertise allows them to perform the most appropriate imaging tests necessary for your child, limiting unnecessary procedures and minimizing radiation doses for children who require multiple imaging tests.

    Our Advanced Image Analysis Laboratory allows clinicians to maximize utilization of data obtained from CT, MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine exams. The 3-D models, fused images, and other advanced post-processing methods improve patient care by aiding diagnosis, treatment planning, and surgical interventions.

    Should your child require sedation in order to complete an imaging study, we have a team of skilled pediatric nurses, nurse practitioners, and anesthesiologists available who evaluate and ensure that each child is imaged safely and completely, while minimizing the anxiety that may occur during the examination.

    In addition to our main Radiology Department in Boston, MA, we have locations conveniently located in Lexington, Peabody, Waltham and Weymouth, MA, which provide a full range of imaging services.