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Here's how a radioactive injection could be avoided when assessing cancer in children

Initial trials of the MRI scanning technique has shown similar results to PET/CT, without using a radioactive injection.

Image: MRI via Shutterstock

A NEW SCANNING technique could allow doctors to assess cancer in children and young adults without exposing patients to harmful radiation.

Although results published today in the The Lancet Oncology need to be confirmed in a larger group of patients, researchers said, the study shows that an iron supplement increases tumour visibility on traditional MRI scans.

No adverse reactions to the ferumoxytol supplement have so far been recorded, and the procedure can be carried out at the same cost as other scans and using non-specialised equipment.

A current technique, known as a PET/CT scan, involves an injection of a radioactive tracer and a CT scan, different to a MRI.


Children are more ‘radiosensitive’ than adults, who may be largely unaffected by the procedure.

The effects of the injection can take a significant time to appear, meaning that many adults do not live long enough to encounter secondary cancers associated with exposure to the radioactive tracer.

“Even with child-adapted low-dose protocols, patients undergoing a single [PET/CT*] scan are typically exposed to ionising radiation equivalent to roughly 700–750 chest radiographs and four times the yearly background dose from natural radiation”, explained Dr Heike Daldrup-Link, who led the research at Stanford University School of Medicine in the US.

Risk tripled

This exposure can almost triple the risk of cancer in children later in life, compared to those over 30.

The study consisted of 22 children with malignant lymphomas and sarcomas.

All were scanning using both techniques — and the results were largely the same.

This included similar sensitivities (93.7 per cent vs 90.8 per cent), specificities (97.7 per cent vs 99.5 per cent), and diagnostic accuracy (97.2 per cent vs 98.3 per cent).


The authors of the study have recommended  the trial be carried out in a larger group of patients to confirm the findings.

*A CT and 18F-fludeoxyglucose (18F-FDG), or PET/CT, scan.

Read: Combination of MRI and mammography could improve breast cancer detection >

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Nicky Ryan

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