My 15-year-old daughter may have a malignant tumor in the muscles of her leg. The clinic where I took her wants to do a whole body MRI. I’m concerned about several things. First, does she really need such a thing? And second, she’s just 15 and still developing. Will this cause harm or even keep her from having children later on?

Whole body MRI is used to help stage a cancerous tumor. It is a very common and important practice these days. Staging refers to determining how far along (or “advanced”) is the tumor.

The results provided by this type of testing has greatly improved physicians’ accuracy in making a diagnosis. Whole body MRI makes it possible to detect tumors elsewhere in the body that would otherwise remain unknown. Finding tumors and treating them as early as possible is the key to successful results.

Experts in the field suggest that the physician making the diagnosis in these cases must be very thorough as many cases are extremely challenging. Diagnostic information must be gathered from multiple sources including the clinical presentation, imaging such as whole body MRI, and tissue biopsy and cell histology.

Cell histology involves the pathologic study of the tumor cells using techniques such as immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, and cytogenetic studies. This type of careful microscopic examination is helping researchers understand how tumors develop. This knowledge may eventually make it possible to specifically target and kill tumors without damaging the surrounding tissue.

As for your concerns about magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a growing/developing teenager — it is a good question! However, you will be relieved to know that MRI does not contain any ionizing radiation. It is the use of magnetic energy, which has no known adverse hormonal or reproductive effects.