Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.Learn More
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a type of imaging test. It uses a large magnet, radio waves, and computers to produce high-quality, detailed pictures of the inside of the body.
Doctors use MRI to examine:
It can help your child’s doctor:
The MRI test is painless. Your child won’t feel the magnetic field or radio waves.
MRI does not involve ionizing radiation. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves (radiofrequency energy) to make images.
During an MRI exam, your child will be inside a strong magnetic field. Then radio waves are sent from and received by the machine. These signals make digital images of the scanned body part.
A contrast agent may be used to enhance the quality of the images.
Be sure to talk with your child about the upcoming scan. It’s important that your child understands they’ll need to lie still during the test (so it doesn’t have to be repeated). A child life specialist can help.
If you or your child’s care team think staying still may be difficult for your child, a sedative may help. Talk with your child’s care team about it.
If your child is going to be sedated, they must not eat or drink for several hours before the test. You’ll get more specific instructions from your child’s pediatric center.
The staff will ask you to fill out a screening form that asks about any metal in your child’s body or on their clothing. Let your care team know if your child has any medical implants.
Objects that may interfere with image quality if close to the area being scanned include:
Because of the MRI’s powerful magnet, you and your child should, if possible, avoid wearing clothing with metal.
It is best to wear clothing without:
In most pediatric centers, you’ll pass through a metal detector that is more sensitive than the ones in most airports before entering the MRI area.
Before the test, your child will be asked to change into a hospital gown. You’ll also go through a metal detector to ensure no metal objects are on you or your child.
Anyone entering the MRI area must pass through a metal detector that is more sensitive than the ones in most airports.
You’ll need to remove these items:
If the detector shows you have metal on your body, you will likely have to remove the metal and be screened again. If it can’t be removed, then you won’t be allowed to enter the area until a safety specialist says you’re “MRI safe.”
Every pediatric center is different, but here’s a look at what you and your child can expect in general:
Your child might receive a contrast agent to help the MRI images appear clearer and brighter. The contrast is given through an IV. If your child doesn’t already have an IV or port, a nurse will start an IV.
A contrast agent called gadolinium is typically used during an MRI. Your child may sense a temporary metallic taste in their mouth after the contrast injection.
Gadolinium should not be given to anyone who is:
Also, let the care team know if your child has a history of:
A few patients experience side effects from the contrast material, including nausea and local pain. Very rarely, patients are allergic to the contrast and experience hives, itchy eyes or other reactions.
If this happens, a radiologist or other physician will be available to help.
A radiologist, a doctor who has special training in reading MRI scans, will look at the images and prepare a report for your child’s doctor. You’ll receive the results during your follow-up appointment.
Together does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.
Reviewed: October 2021