Less than half of parents aware of CT-scan cancer risk

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Computed tomography (CT) scans contain 60 to 80 times the radiation that a normal X-ray does. However, less than half of parents are aware that can pose a cancer risk to their child, new research reveals.

Previous studies have shown that children who are frequently exposed to CT scans or X-rays may have a heightened risk of developing other diseases, especially cancer. Children are more susceptible to radiation-induced cancer because they have more years for the cancer to grow.

A June JAMA Pediatrics study showed that 5,000 future cancer cases may be tied to the 4 million pediatric CT scans performed annually.

About fifty percent of pediatric patients who go to emergency rooms with head injuries are immediately given a CT scan, according to researchers. The American Academy of Pediatrics says a thorough examination should be conducted first.

Another June 2012 study in The Lancet showed that children who get two or three CT scans before they turn 15 have a three times greater chance of developing brain cancer. Those that undergo five to 10 scans in the same time-frame have a three times higher risk for developing leukemia.

The Mayo Clinic also pointed out that people may have reactions to the contrast material, a special dye that is injected through your vein before the scan takes place. It can cause conditions ranging from mild rashes and itchiness to serious and life-threatening complications.

For the new study, researchers spoke to 742 parents of children who were undergoing a CT scan of the head. In total, 496 said they knew a little bit about radiation exposure, with the majority saying they learned about it from other health care workers. Most importantly, said the researchers, 357 parents knew of the potential cancer risk, and said it was because of increased media coverage.

After all the parents were notified of the potential side effects, only 69.6 percent of the parents wanted to go through with the procedure as opposed to 90.4 percent before they knew of the risks. Most of the parents assumed a CT scan had the same radiation exposure as an X-ray. However, if a doctor insisted that he scan was necessary, 95 percent of those surveyed said they would agree with his recommendation.

"Clinicians may therefore have a greater responsibility to initiate conversations with families about risks/benefits of CT rather than do so only when prompted by the parent," the researchers wrote.

The study was published in Pediatrics on July 8.

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