Radiation Exposure From CT Scans: Is Your Child Safe?

June 7, 2012


An article published recently in The Lancet added to the growing concerns about the risks of radiation associated with CT scans in children. The investigators concluded that children undergoing CT scans had a minimally increased risk of developing brain tumors and leukemia. When looked at carefully, the study translated to about one excess case of leukemia and one excess brain tumor for every 10,000 patients undergoing CT scans.

CT is an incredible diagnostic tool. It provides us with a wonderful way to peer inside the body without having surgery. Since the time of the Lancet study there have been tremendous advances in decreasing the dose of radiation associated with a CT scan, so that with the newest techniques the radiation dose would be slightly greater than a few chest X-rays.

As a parent, what should you do if a CT scan is ordered on your child?

  1. Ask if there is an alternative study that would answer the question without any radiation. Sometimes ultrasound or MRI will provide the answer (and don’t result in any radiation exposure).
  2. Inquire if the site that is performing the CT uses age and size-appropriate techniques to limit the dose of radiation (i.e.  they are not using “adult-sized” doses on children).
  3. Is the facility where the CT scan will be performed accredited by the American College of Radiology? If the equipment is not accredited, there is a risk that the doses are higher.

We must remember that almost everything we do carries some small risk… even crossing the street can be dangerous. Most of the time the risk of not performing a medically necessary procedure is much higher than the miniscule risk of radiation exposure causing cancer.

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