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X-Rays, Scans, Radiation, and Kids

What Parents Need to Know Before the Doctor or Dentist Orders a Scan

What Are the Risks? continued...

Put another way, experts estimate that 10,000 CT scans would lead to one additional case of cancer.

Kids are smaller than adults, so they get a higher dose of radiation unless the scanning machine is adjusted for them. It's not uncommon for a child to get an adult-sized dose of radiation, especially if they're scanned at a general hospital.

General hospitals, where 90% of child imaging occurs, don't always change the settings on their scanners. Children's hospitals, on the other hand, routinely adjust their machines to compensate for a child's size.

The FDA has urged makers of medical scanning equipment to make new devices that would minimize the radiation dose delivered to children.

Lowering the Risks of Radiation to Kids

It's important to use the lowest dose possible with scanning a child. But it's even more important to avoid unnecessary scans in the first place.

There's a growing body of medical evidence questioning the use of CT scans in these circumstances:

  • After a child suffers blunt trauma, such as a blow to the head after a fall.
  • To evaluate seizures or chronic headaches.
  • As the main tool a doctor uses to diagnose appendicitis.

"We've seen kids who've been 8 or 10 years old who've already had six CT scans. They come in multiple times for belly pain to an ER and they get scanned. And sometimes it's at several ERs so the doctors who are ordering the scans don't really even realize how many the child has had," Pranikoff says.

What Parents Can Do

There are simple things parents can do to make sure that their kids only get the imaging tests when it's really necessary.

Ask questions. Here are the four questions parents should always ask, according to Marilyn J. Goske, MD, a pediatric radiologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center:

  1. Does this test use radiation?
  2. Why is this exam being done?
  3. How is it going to help my child?
  4. Are there alternatives that don't use ionizing radiation, like an ultrasound?

Goske helped to create "Image Gently," a campaign to educate parents and doctors about the risks of radiation.

Consider going to a children's hospital. If a scan is necessary, and you have time to choose where to go to get it, consider going to a children's hospital. Pediatric facilities are more likely to adjust the scanner to deliver a child-sized dose of radiation.

Keep records. Write down each scan your child gets, where he got it, and the date.

It's also a good idea to keep a copy of the scan. That keeps tests from being unnecessarily repeated if a child gets seen at more than one hospital within a short period of time.

Check on the dentist's office. Kids are likely to get regular X-rays at dental check-ups. When used appropriately, experts say the risk from those X-rays is probably low.

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