CT Scans Connected to Increased Cancer Risk in Children

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A recent examination of seven healthcare systems in the U.S. has discovered that pediatric radiation exposure from computed tomography (CT) scans can potentially increase the risk of radiation-induced cancer in children.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, showed that the number of CT scans among young children has more than doubled from 1996 to 2005. Scans have risen from around 330,000 in 1995 to 1.65 million in 2008, clearly illustrating that over the past few years, the use of CT scans has sky rocketed.

And what is troubling is that the levels of radiation released by CT scans are much higher than traditional radiography and have been known to increase the risk of cancer, especially in young children who are more sensitive to the radiation; and have their entire lives for the cancer to develop.

"The increased use of CT in pediatrics, combined with the wide variability in radiation doses, has resulted in many children receiving a high-dose examination," the study remarks.

The team led by Diana L. Miglioretti, Ph.D., of the Group Health Research Institute and University of California, Davis, collected data from seven different health care systems to verify whether the use of CT scans in pediatrics increases cancer risk.

The team mentioned a gradual rise in the use of CT scans between 1996 and 2005, doubling in children younger than 5 and tripling among children between ages 5 and 14.

Based on the team’s findings, those who run the risk of developing solid cancers were young girls as well as those who received CT scans around the abdomen, pelvis, or spine.

Among young girls, the team determined that one solid cancer was caused for every 300 to 390 abdomen/pelvis scans, 330 to 480 chest scans, and 270 to 800 spine scans.

The risk of developing leukemia was also high among head scans for children under 5 years old, with a rate of 1.9 percent for every 10,000CT scans.

The study also projected 4,870 future cancers could be caused by the 4 million pediatric CT scans performed each year. According to the team, it would be beneficial to decrease the highest 25 percent of doses to the midpoint, in an effort to prevent 43 percent of these cancers.

In addition, based on a previous study published in the journal Radiology, most radiologists who perform and interpret CT scans of children lack the required training in pediatric radiology.

"Thus, more research is urgently needed to determine when CT in pediatrics can lead to improved health outcomes and whether other imaging methods (or no imaging) could be as effective. For now, it is important for both the referring physician and the radiologist to consider whether the risks of CT exceed the diagnostic value it provides over other tests, based on current evidence," the study concludes.

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