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Radiation in CT Scans May Cause Harm to Children

Several new studies suggest that kids who get computerized tomography (CT) scans--an imaging technique--are getting a higher dose of radiation than necessary and that this could lead to cancer later in life. Our health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay is here to help us understand this latest news.

Three new studies in the American Journal of Roentgenology question the amount of radiation necessary in CT scans for effective diagnosis in children. Researchers point out that most CT scanners are calibrated for adults and that children are getting a much larger radiation dose than they need, which could potentially cause cancer over time.

One study estimated that children get up to six times the amount of radiation they actually need. And another estimated that out of 600,000 kids who get CT scans every year of the head and abdomen, as many as 500 could die of cancer later in life because of the excess radiation.

To put that in perspective, that is a very small statistical risk, and there is no definitive proof linking CT scan radiation to cancer. Not everyone agrees about the risks or the statistical methods used to calculate those risks, but clearly there is good reason to reevaluate the amount of radiation given to children.

Children should not avoid CT scans. A CT scan is a wonderful tool that allows doctors to spot problems and confirm suspicions and proceed toward the treatment and cure of potentially fatal conditions.

A CT scan generates radiation in the form of X-rays to diagnose serious conditions ranging from cancer to kidney stones to appendicitis. The technology provides doctors with an excellent way to see inside the body and for many conditions it's an indispensable tool for an accurate diagnosis.

Your doctor will help you weigh the risks versus the benefit of a CT scan for your child. It's a legitimate concern and a legitimate question to ask your doctor.

The American College of Radiology has been working out guidelines for CT scans that include the appropriate dosage for children. The trick is to determine how much radiation is needed for an accurate diagnosis. One of the new studies estimates that cutting the dose by half would still give a clear picture and cut the risks in half.

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