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Radiation-Free Cancer Scans: Coming Soon?

Children might benefit most from new way to detect tumors, but experts say more research is needed

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"If treatment decisions had been made based on either of these scans, the decision would have been the same," Daldrup-Link said.

The costs for the two kinds of scans are similar, she said.

What about side effects? MRIs use radio waves instead of radiation to peer inside the body, Daldrup-Link said. There are no side effects to MRI scans, she said, although some patients might be allergic to the contrast agent.

More research and perhaps more attempts to discover how the treatment works in older adults are now needed. Physicians are beginning a study of the scanning technique in at least six major children's hospitals throughout the country, Daldrup-Link said.

The study is set for publication in the Feb. 19 issue of the journal The Lancet Oncology.

In the big picture, several questions need to be answered before the approach is ready for prime time, Slovis said. The goal -- the "holy grail" -- is to be able to find a way to scan children for cancer without using radiation or sedation. For now, though, "there's not enough information to say we have it," he said.

Dr. Marta Hernanz-Schulman agreed. She is a professor of radiology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of diagnostic imaging at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a great step forward in the quest for the ideal test, but it needs to be evaluated," she said. And she cautioned that the side effects -- allergic reactions to the contrast agent -- could be quite serious.

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