CT scans for children linked to increased cancer risk
June 6th, 2012
06:30 PM ET

CT scans for children linked to increased cancer risk

CT scans expose children to radiation that could give them cancer, according to a  review of children’s imaging data published Wednesday in the British medical journal Lancet.

The researchers estimate that for every 10,000 computed tomography scans performed on children aged 10 or younger, one additional child will get a brain tumor and another additional child will get leukemia within a decade of the first scan. These cancers wouldn’t otherwise be expected, even if none of the imaging was done.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University in England say their investigation is the first direct evidence of such a link.  They reviewed 175,000 cases.

Multiple CT scans increase a child’s risk. The researchers found radiation exposure from two to three scans can triple the risk of brain cancer and five to ten scans can triple the risk of leukemia.

Radiation experts say the increased cancer risk of the CT scans should not dissuade parents from getting the scans for their children when medically necessary. The tests often produce life-saving images of head injuries, complicated pneumonia and chest infections.

“If an imaging scan is warranted, the immediate benefits outweigh what is still a very small long-term risk,” said Dr. Marta Schulman, a pediatric radiologist and chair of the American College of Radiology’s Pediatric Imaging Commission, in a statement to CNN. “Parents should certainly discuss risk with their provider, but not refuse care that may save and extend their child’s life.”

A study last year found 1.65 million children got a CT scan during their visits to emergency rooms in 2008, a fivefold increase in 14 years.

Before you agree to a CT scan for your child, here’s some advice from the study’s authors and pediatricians at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital:

  •  Ask for the lowest dose of radiation possible
  •  Avoid multiple scans
  •  Ask for an ultrasound or MRI instead, which have no radiation at all

The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging also has information on how you can decide on scans for your children.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.