How are children’s cancers diagnosed?

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Your family doctor (GP) will talk to and your child about any symptoms they have. He or she will examine your child and possibly do some tests, like blood tests.

Your GP will refer your child to hospital if they think more tests are needed. Your child will see a specialist who will arrange any other tests that are needed. 

A paediatrician is a doctor who specialises in treating children. 

  • A paediatric oncologist is a doctor who specialises in chemotherapy and other cancer drug treatments for children.
  • A paediatric haematologist specialises in looking after children with blood cancers, like leukaemia. 
  • A paediatric surgeon performs surgery on children.

Tests to diagnose children’s cancers

  • Biopsy: A sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope in the lab. A biopsy helps your doctor to diagnose the disease.
  • Blood test: Blood tests can check to see if the number of blood cells is normal.  Changes in the number of cells may be a sign of some cancers. Blood tests can also help to show if organs like the kidney and liver are working properly.
  • Bone marrow test: A bone marrow biopsy examines a sample of bone marrow. This is where all the different types of blood cells are made. It can be used to diagnose blood cancers.
  • Lumbar puncture: A lumbar puncture removes a sample of fluid from around the spinal cord.
  • X–rays: X-rays allow your doctor to look inside the body and check for any abnormal changes.
  • CT scan / MRI scan: X-rays that give a detailed picture of the tissues inside the body. They may be used to look for brain tumours or other cancers like liver cancer and retinoblastoma.
  • Ultrasound scan: An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to build up a picture of the tissues inside your body. It is like the scan used for pregnant women.
Learn more

If you want to know more about how these tests are done, see our page on cancer tests

For more information

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