Children and radiation exposure: Meeting the challenge

In this issue of FierceMedicalImaging, I interview Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of a recently published opinion piece in the New York Times that revisits the issue of exposure to medical radiation and its associated cancer risks.

Redberg, at one point in the interview, talks about the fact that children under the age of 18 are undergoing unnecessary computed tomography scans in increasing numbers.

Recent studies bear this out. Last July, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that more than 25 percent of children treated for a headache both inside and outside of emergency rooms received CT scans to rule out brain tumors or other neurological orders, despite the very low risk of these conditions actually occurring.

Another study, published in the same journal in 2012, reported that CT scans on children with abdominal pain skyrocketed in the period between 1998 and 2008. And according to another study--published in JAMA Pediatrics last June--the 4 million or so pediatric CT scans of the head, abdomen/pelvis, chest and spine performed annually are projected to induce the development of 4,870 cancers.

While Redberg is concerned that much still needs to be done to reduce radiation exposure and cancer risks, it is reassuring that when it comes to children, researchers seem to be succeeding in coming up with ways of reducing their risks.

For, example just last August FierceMedicalImaging reported on efforts by neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists to develop a technique that cuts down on the amount of radiation exposure to children who have conditions requiring multiple brain scans.

And this past week a study in Pediatrics reported that the use of ultrasound along with magnetic resonance imaging to diagnose children with suspected appendicitis resulted in similar clinical outcomes to cases in which CT was used.

The implications of this study are clear when one considers that, as reported in a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine two years ago, the percentage of children diagnosed in emergency rooms for appendicitis increased from zero to 60 percent in the decade between 1996 and 2006.

It's well accepted that risk associated with exposing children to medical radiation are real, and it's incumbent on radiologists to lead the way in developing dose-reduction--or elimination--techniques when it comes to imaging this patient population. It's reassuring that they seem to be meeting that challenge. - Mike (@FierceHealthIT)

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