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CT Scans Increasing Risk of Future Cancer in Children

A new study suggests that CT scans are increasing the risk for future cancer in children.

Every year, more than 4 million CT scans are performed on children, and in a report published in JAMA Pediatrics researchers estimate that one year’s CT scanning in the United States would produce 4,879 future cancers in children under 15.

Researchers counted the number of CT scans performed on children under 15 from 1996 to 2010 in seven American health care systems, and calculated the average dose of radiation delivered to the head, abdomen, chest or spine.

Scientists found that up to a quarter of children with a single abdominal scan received 20 millisieverts or higher. The average dose for a chest x-ray is 0.1 millisievert.

Among children aged 5 to 14, CT use nearly tripled, from 10.5 per 1,000 in 1996 to a peak of 27 per 1,000 in 2005, before falling to about 24 per 1,000 in 2010.

Researchers calculate that if the highest doses could be reduced to match the average dose, future cancers would be reduced by 43 percent.

Just under half of parents in a recent survey understood that radiation from a CT scan is tied to an increased risk of cancer for their child.

Dr. Diana Miglioretti, lead author of the study recommends that parents ask the following questions:

•· How will the scan change my child’s medical care?

•· Are there other tests that can be used?

•· What are you doing to make sure the dose is as low as possible?

The American College of Radiology believes that since children are more sensitive to radiation, they should have a CT study only if it is essential for making a diagnosis and should not have repeated CT studies unless absolutely necessary

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Source: The New York Times, “The Possible Cancer Toll of CT Scans,” July 15, 2013.

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