CT Scans in Children: Benefit and Risks

Huffington Post—August 28, 2012

by Helene Pavlov, M.D., FACR, Radiologist-in-Chief at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Are CT scans dangerous? Yes! Should you not allow your child to have a CT scan? No!

Recently published research documented, for the first time, a direct link between children receiving CT scans (ionizing radiation) with the development of brain tumors and leukemia. The research findings are powerful, and they should be carefully evaluated. However, the benefits of CT scans must be considered along with the risks. Most importantly, it should be noted that there have been significant improvements and increased awareness of the dangers of ionizing radiation since the research study was conducted.

The referenced investigation was published in The Lancet June 7, 2012. This investigation was the first to demonstrate direct evidence that 2-3 head CT scans before age 15 could triple the child's risk of developing a brain tumor, and 5-10 head CT scans may triple the risk of developing leukemia.

While this published information is alarming, the benefits of a CT examination for accurate early diagnosis or treatment planning should not be ignored. Radiologists and CT manufacturers have been aware of ionizing radiation dangers and risks and have made progress increasing image quality while reducing radiation exposure.

So what should you do if your child has had head trauma or unrelenting headaches or other symptoms and your physician recommends a CT examination? First, you should discuss the diagnostic imaging options to confirm or exclude the suspected diagnosis with your physician. Perhaps an MR exam would be an alternative diagnostic modality. If a biopsy is needed, is CT guidance being recommended and is that the only option? If it is determined that a CT examination is the optimal imaging examination, then questions regarding safety should be posed.

Radiologists are physicians trained in limiting the dangers of radiation and can help facilitate dose reduction without sacrificing image quality. Radiologists are an excellent resource for treating physicians and for patients to determine which imaging examination has the highest yield for an accurate diagnosis and for individualizing the examination to the patient's age, size and symptoms.

You are entitled to have answers, so ask questions.

For more things to know, read the full story at huffingtonpost.com.

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