The Risks of CT Scans for Children

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Computerized tomography (CT) scans have greatly improved diagnosis and treatment for patients. Physicians use them to help make diagnoses and to monitor the progress of diseases such as cancer. But are there risks associated with the use of CT scans, particularly for children?

About ten percent of the approximately 68 million CT scans performed annually, or about 6.8 million, are performed on children. According to a recent USA Today article on the risks of CT scans, a study by the National Cancer Institute last year found that for every 10,000 head CT scans performed in children, in the decade following the first CT scan there would be one case of leukemia and one case of brain tumors occurring beyond the number of expected cases occurring had no CT scans been performed.

In other words, children who received CT scans face a small increased risk of leukemia and brain tumors in the decade after their first CT scan.

However, another recent study published in Radiology found that the conditions for which young adults aged 18 to 35 required the CT scan posed more of a risk than the risk of radiation-induced cancer. The study looked at 22,000 patients who had a CT scan for trauma, abdominal pain and cancer. Of those who had had a chest CT scan, 7.1% died within an average of 5.5 years, while 3.9% of those who had abdominal CT scans died. These statistics were higher than the 0.1% risk of death from cancer associated with CT scans. The lead researcher for the study noted that, while patients shouldn’t be complacent about the radiation received from CT scans, the benefits of using CT scans should also be kept in mind.

A typical chest CT scan typically delivers about 70 times the radiation one would receive from a single chest x-ray. Campaigns such as the Image Gently campaign advocate for the reduction of radiation exposure received through CT scans by children. When another imaging test can’t be substituted, a child-size dose of radiation should be used, only a single scan should be performed, rather than multiple scans, and only affected areas should be scanned.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of medical treatment received and are seeking a qualified medical malpractice attorney, contact Los Angeles doctor-turned-lawyer Bradley I. Kramer for a free consultation today.

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