Doctors and manufacturers aim to decrease CT radiation exposure, especially for kids

The high-powered imaging technology of CT scans allows doctors to see into crevices of the body that cannot be viewed as well by other methods. But the radiation exposure from the CT scans also can increase the risk of cancer, especially for children.

While children account for just 5 percent to 10 percent of about 70 million CT scans conducted annually, their smaller size and longer life expectancy pose greater risks than for adults. A study published last fall by the Lancet found that 20 percent of children older than two years and almost 25 percent of children under two years, who received CT scans after head trauma, did not need them due to a very low risk of developing serious brain injury versus the cancer risk from radiation exposure. The Lancet study evaluated health records from the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network for over 42,000 children at 25 hospitals.

Dr. Nathan Kupperman and his emergency physician colleagues at the University of California Davis Hospital have developed guidelines identifying children who do not require a CT scan. Those children show normal mental function after the injury without visible swelling or skull fracture. The researchers applied the data to a second group of 8,600 children and the guidelines were correct 99.9 percent of the time.

Additionally, the Society for Pediatric Radiology is proposing ways for radiologists to apply the tiniest amount of radiation possible for patients during the imaging procedure. It encourages them to cover susceptible areas like reproductive organs and recommends alternative tests such as ultrasound when practicable.

The Society's concern mirrors top CT scan manufacturers' efforts to install more rigorous safety controls after several reports of patients who received possibly lethal amounts of radiation. General Electric, Siemens, Toshiba, Royal Philips Electronics and Hitachi will install the new safeguards to their machines later this year.

To learn more:
- read this Wall Street Journal blog post