Information for parents and carers

If your child’s GP or doctor thinks that your child might have cancer, they'll be referred to Oncology Department, where specialist cancer doctors and nurses will find out if they have the illness and, if so, what type it is

Our specialist Paediatric Consultant Oncologists will do tests and scans to try and find out exactly what is wrong and will then decide on the most suitable treatment for your child.

There are different types of tests that might be done:

Blood tests

Our team will need take samples of your child’s blood - it is sometimes possible to identify a particular type of cancer by examining a small amount of blood.

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

Pictures (imaging) - CT and MRI scans

We may carry out a straightforward x-ray or a more detailed kind of image – a CT or MRI scan, to investigate your child’s condition.

CT (computed tomography) scan
This type of scan uses x-rays to take pictures inside the body. Having a CT scan involves lying on a bed and going through a circular shaped piece of equipment and is a fairly quick process.

While undergoing this type of scan, it’s important that your child remains as still as possible. Depending on your child’s age, we may need to give them aesthetic to sedate them during the scan to ensure they don’t move.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
MRI scans use powerful magnets to take pictures of the body’s soft tissue and bones, it involves lying on a bed and going into a large tube shaped machine. It can sound quite noisy, so we often give children and young people ear protectors to wear.

Similarly to the CT scan, it’s important that your child remains as still as possible. Depending on your child’s age, we may need to give them aesthetic to sedate them during the scan to ensure they don’t move. 

Bone and MIBG (meta-iodobenzylguanidine) scans

These scans are used to find out if a cancer has spread to any other areas of the body. Bone scans are done on most types of tumour apart from brain and spine tumours.

These pictures are taken using a radioactive dye. A special type of camera passes over the body and captures images.


As well as carrying out scans, we may perform a biopsy as part of our investigations. Told do this, we’ll take away a small piece of the lump we've found inside your child and examine it under a microscope.

It’s likely that we will put your child to sleep to extract a sample of the lump to ensure they don’t feel anything during the process.

Bone marrow test

This is likely to happen while we’re performing your child’s biopsy. We use a special needle to take a small piece of bone marrow (the soft, liquid tissue found inside bones), usually from the pelvis, to see if the cancer has spread.

A central line (Hickman line)

Nearly all of our children and young people will have what is called a central line fitted in to 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 used when giving chemotherapy treatment and also to take blood tests.

Other tests before beginning cancer treatment

Before your child starts treatment, they'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 them isn't going to harm their kidneys, heart or hearing.

Are the tests and scans frightening?
Your child may find the tests and scans slightly daunting because they're probably things they've never experienced before – and often, new experiences can be a bit frightening.

Dr Dave Hobin, Consultant Paediatric Oncologist and Medical Lead for Palliative Care explains:

"We do everything we can to make the children and young people we see feel less worried." "We let them spend time with play specialists who can help explain their feelings and fears. For example, they can have a look at the MRI scanner so they know what to expect."

Do the tests and scans hurt?
The tests and scans shouldn’t hurt. After a biopsy or an operation, your child might feel a little sore for a while afterwards, but medicines are available to stop the soreness.