Computed tomography (“CT”) scans are essentially a collection of X-rays taken from various angles and consolidated to provide physicians with a cross-sectional image of the area in question. However, CT scans require far more radiation than a traditional X-ray, and there is new evidence that suggests this elevated radiation may have particularly adverse effects on children.
A new study published online in the British medical journal The Lancet examined the records of approximately 180,000 British children who had CT scans during the period of 1985 through 2002. Of this population, 74 children were diagnosed with leukemia and 135 with brain cancer. Researchers concluded that, as one may expect, the risk of developing these conditions increased in children subjected to multiple scans. In fact, in children under 15 who had two or three scans of the head, the risk of developing brain cancer tripled as compared to the general population; similarly, five to ten scans tripled the leukemia risk.
This study follows a 2001 study predicting that, of the 600,000 children under 15 who were having head and abdominal scans in the United States each year, 500 might ultimately die of cancer caused by the CT radiation.
Notwithstanding the above, researchers, as well as the American College of Radiology, stress that these findings do not mean CT scans should be totally abandoned. Instead, scans are appropriate in cases where absolutely necessary, and should always be limited to the lowest possible dose of radiation.
An example of medical emergencies where a CT scan should be employed include those pertaining to head and spinal injuries, pneumonia complications and other chest infections. Conversely, alternative methods—such as conventional X-rays and ultrasound—should be considered for common adolescent inflictions like kidney stones, appendicitis and dental problems.