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Children and CT Scans


What parents should know



November 2012

Every year, more than 4 million children undergo computed tomography or CT scans. Recently, media headlines have highlighted a new study that reviewed the potential increased risk of cancer in children who have these tests. If your doctor has ordered a CT scan for your child, what do you need to know before the test is performed?

What is a CT scan?

A CT or computed tomography scan is a series of X-rays that are taken from different angles and combined to create cross-sectional images. A CT scan is the best way to evaluate many head and body injuries as well as abnormalities.

What did the study find?

A recent study published in the medical journal, The Lancet* , concluded that children who undergo several CT scans may have an increased risk of leukemia or brain tumors. The study showed that children under 15 years old who had two or three scans that delivered a certain level of radiation tripled their risk of cancer. This translates roughly to one excess case of leukemia and one excess brain tumor per 10,000 children undergoing a CT scan. However, cancer is very common and 40 percent of all people will be diagnosed with it during their lifetime. The potential added risk from CT scan is therefore very small.

What does this mean for my child?

CT scans are an incredibly valuable tool which can be lifesaving and help diagnose and manage many childhood disorders and injuries. The benefits of a CT scan, when indicated and performed appropriately, far outweigh the risks or potential risks.

At Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, pediatric radiologists review every request for a CT scan and, when appropriate, advise physicians to perform a different test that can just as accurately determine a health condition, injury, or disorder.

Are all CT scans the same?

No. Riley at IU Health is one of the few sites in the country that uses techniques to tailor the CT scan settings according to a child's size. CT scans administered at Riley at IU Health use radiation doses that are markedly lower than those reviewed in the study published in The Lancet.

What can I do to limit my child's radiation exposure?

The American College of Radiology (ACR) recommends that you keep a record of your child's X-ray history. Before your child receives any test, ask your physician the following questions:

• How will this exam improve my child's healthcare?

• Are there alternatives that do not use radiation which are equally as good?

• Will my child receive a "kid-size" radiation dose?

• Is this facility ACR-accredited?

For more information, visit www.iuhealth.org/rileyspeaks.

Dr. Boaz Karmazyn is the Medical Director of Pediatric Radiology at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
*Pearce, MS, Salotti, JA, Little, MP, et al. Radiation exposure from CT scans in childhood and subsequent risk of leukemia and brain tumours: A retrospective cohort study. Lancet, early online publication, June 7, 2012: doi:10.1016/SO140-6736(12)60815-0

Tags: Health, In This Issue, Pediatric Health

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