A new study estimates that the average U.S. child will receive seven or more radiation scans before hitting 18 years of age. The study, published this week in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is the largest of its kind to date and is fairly worrisome. Researchers found that on average, 42.5% of young patients experience procedures such as X-rays, CT scans and other medical radiation. Children older than 10 years had the most procedures but infants younger than 2 years of age frequently have medical radiation as well. The most troubling issue though is that during the study duration, 8% of kids received at least one CT scan and 3% had two or more CT scans. CT scans, while often useful, also use much more radiation than other procedures and may carry an increased risk of cancer. While no one is doubting that medical radiation is useful, and can save lives, studies like this show that children may be needlessly over-exposed to radiation, which can put them at risk for cancer.
Children, and their developing tissues, are more vulnerable to the risks associated with radiation exposure than adults are. One prior study estimated that the risk of a fatal cancer from an abdominal CT scan was eight times higher for an infant compared with the risk for a 50-year-old. The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging – the Image Gently Alliance notes that, “Studies of large populations exposed to radiation have demonstrated slight increases in cancer risk even at low levels of radiation exposure, particularly in children.” The Image Gently Alliance takes the stance of safety first, noting, “To be safe, we should act as if low doses of radiation may cause harm.” Additionally, researchers involved in the new study say that radiation is occurring more frequently than ever before, and that efforts to optimize and ensure appropriate use of radiation procedures in children should be encouraged.
As a parent, you should be aware of the issues surrounding radiation procedures. As the Image Gently Alliance points out, parents should also know that there’s a growing awareness about limiting medical imaging without compromising quality or child care. If you have questions about radiation procedures, always ask your child’s pediatrician, or you can visit the Image Gently Alliance FAQ for parents.