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Preparing for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


MRI is a way of taking pictures of the inside of the body without using X-rays or radiation. The MRI machine uses a large magnet, radio waves, and computers to take pictures of your child’s body. The guidelines below should be followed whether your child will be sedated or awake during the MRI.

Gadolinium-based contrast agent (GBCA)

Most MRIs require a contrast agent to better view tumors or tissue. Most contrast agents are gadolinium-based (GBCAs). Gadolinium is a metal that is not needed for the body to function. It may be harmful when a large amount is present in the body. In GBCAs the gadolinium usually is bound in a way that it cannot escape the compound, and it will later leave the body unchanged. Depending on which contrast agent is used, tiny amounts of “free’” gadolinium can escape into the body.

The St. Jude staff uses 3 of the safest contrast agents. This means the risk of free gadolinium staying in the body is small. When your child’s exam requires a GBCA injection (shot), the Diagnostic Imaging staff will give you a medication sheet about this. Please study this information carefully and talk to the staff if you have questions. To learn, more visit

The danger of metal near the MRI area

The large MRI magnet is very strong. It will attract metal objects, causing them to become hot or to move toward the scanner. This would be dangerous for anyone in the room. It is important that anyone who is going to be near the MRI area follow the safety rules outlined below.

  • Before you or your child enters the MRI area, the staff will ask you to fill out a screening form that asks about any metal in your child’s body. Your child also must change into a hospital gown to make sure that no metal in the clothing poses a safety risk or disturbs the image quality.
  • Anyone entering the MRI area in Diagnostic Imaging or Radiation Oncology must pass a metal detector that is more sensitive than ones you see in most airports. This rule includes parents or guardians who need to go with their child into the MRI area. If the detector shows that the person has metal on the body, this person will have to remove the metal and be screened again. If the metal cannot be removed, the person may not enter the MRI area.
  • No comfort items, such as stuffed animals, may enter the MRI room (Zone IV). These items might contain metal and would not be safe near the MRI magnet.

Remove metal before getting close to the MRI area

If your child is scheduled to get an MRI and you plan to go into the MRI area, you should do the following:

  • Dress in clothes (including undergarments) that do not contain metal. Avoid snaps, zippers, hooks, wires, rivets, and shoes with steel caps.
  • Be prepared to remove jewelry, hair clips (pins), shoes, watches, belts, suspenders, and body jewelry.
  • Be ready to change into a hospital gown.
  • MRI area can provide sports bras when needed (for parents only) to ensure comfort.

You may want to bring a sweat suit or warm-up style clothing to change into during the MRI. Most often, the magnet does not attract U.S. coins and gold jewelry. Even so, for your safety and that of your child, the staff will ask you to remove these and other items, such as cell phones, pagers, keys, ink pens, pocket knives, tools, support braces, and credit cards. You can leave these items in a locker that the staff will provide. In addition, strollers, wheelchairs, and baby seats are not allowed in the restricted area. The staff can show you where to leave these items.

Medicine patches that are applied to the skin may contain metal. This could cause a skin burn during an MRI scan. For this reason, you must remove all medicine patches before an MRI scan.

If your child has dental braces with archwires, the archwires may create a tugging sensation. We request that you have the archwires removed before the MRI exam. We prefer that this be done by your child’s orthodontist, but sometimes it can be done in the St. Jude Dental Clinic. Talk to your child’s St. Jude doctor if you need the archwires removed at St. Jude. The St. Jude doctor will schedule an appointment with the Dental Clinic before the MRI. Your child’s orthodontist must fit the new archwire.


If you want to learn more about MRI scans or the safety rules for the MRI area, please talk to your child’s doctor, nurse, or the Diagnostic Imaging staff.

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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