Increase in CT exams for children in ERs raising concerns

The number of children receiving computed tomography (CT) scans in emergency rooms has been rapidly rising -- raising concerns that some may be exposed to adult-sized radiation doses that could lead to potential cancer risks in later years, according to a new study.

The researchers, who analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, found that CT exams of children increased from about 330,000 in 1995 to 1.65 million in 2008 -- a five-fold increase.

Top complaints received from among those who had received a CT exam included head injury, abdominal pain, and headache.

A child's organs are more sensitive to the effects of radiation than those of an adult. Also, they have a longer remaining life expectancy in which cancer may potentially form, according to the study appearing online and in the June print edition of Radiology.

It's important to think creatively "about how to partner with each other -- with ordering clinicians and with CT manufacturers -- to ensure that all children are scanned only when it is appropriate and with appropriate techniques," said the study's lead author, David B. Larson, MD, director of quality improvement in the Department of Radiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, in a statement.

Advancements in CT technology, such as helical scanning, have made CT a vital tool for rapid diagnostic evaluation of children in the ED. However, the relatively higher radiation doses associated with CT -- compared to most other imaging scans -- have raised concerns over the increase in risks associated with ionizing radiation, the researchers said.

The researchers also noted that most radiologists who oversee and interpret CT examinations of children have not been trained in pediatric radiology.

For more:
- see the AP story 
- view the HealthDay article

- see the Radiology abstract