Children undergo unnecessary CT scans, risk overexposure to radiation

Despite rising concerns about the unseen risks of cumulative doses of radiation, some hospitals and freestanding imaging centers still administer adult-size doses of radiation to children. The facilities scan children repeatedly without cause or expose them to needless radiation by scanning too broadly or not using protective shields, the Chicago Tribune reports.

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"We still have a way to go in terms of optimizing these examinations," Dr. Donald Frush, chief of pediatric radiology at Duke University Hospital, told the Tribune.

About seven million CT scans are administered to children every year; the number is expanding nearly 10 percent annually, according to a 2008 review of radiation risks associated with CT scans for kids in Current Opinion in Pediatrics. Almost one-third of the tests are given to children less than 10 years old.

Although children's hospitals have focused on minimizing radiation exposure, most kids get scans in adult hospitals or imaging centers that have been slow to improve practices.

Children often have scans at other hospitals that were not needed or the right area wasn't imaged, said Dr. James Donaldson, chairman of medical imaging at Children's Memorial. Worse yet, many scans involve high radiation doses that weren't adjusted for a child's size or weight.

While there has been controversy about the relationship between CT medical imaging and cancer and confusion over what constitutes a safe dose, medical professionals are taking steps to lower children's exposure to radiation by adjusting CT scanner settings for smaller bodies, imaging only those areas under medical investigation, and using other tests, such as ultrasounds and MRIs, when possible.

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"While we don't know with absolute certainty that medical radiation causes cancer, we want to act as if it does," Dr. Marilyn Goske, chair of the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging and head of radiology education at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, told the Tribune.

A national campaign called Image Gently that is endorsed by the American College of Radiology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Pediatric Radiology and more than a dozen other U.S. medical organizations, is working to increase awareness of the opportunities to lower the radiation doses aimed at children.

To learn more:
- here's the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging's Image Gently website
- read the Chicago Tribune article
- see an article in USAToday

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