Study: Low cancer risk for children undergoing heart scans

While radiation from imaging may not significantly increase lifetime cancer risks for most children undergoing heart scans, it can for children with complex heart disease, according to a study in Circulation.

Researchers lead by Kevin Hill, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, studied 337 children under the age of 6 who had heart surgery between 2005 and 2010. The children underwent 13,932 examinations during which they were exposed to ionizing radiation.

The researchers found that some children with complex heart disease received enough of  a cumulative radiation dose to increase their lifetime by cancer risk up to 6.5 percent.

Conventional radiographs represented 92 percent of examinations, while cardiac catheterization and computed tomography accounted for 81 percent of cumulative exposure. In addition, they determined that girls have double the cancer risk of boys because they are prone to breast and thyroid cancer.

"There are definitely times when radiation is necessary," Hill said in an announcement. "But it's important for parents to ask and compare in case you can avert potentially high exposure procedures. Often, there are alternative or modified procedures with less radiation, or imaging may not actually be necessary."

Reducing unnecessary or high-dose CT scans in pediatric scans could lower the number of future radiation-induced cancers, according to research published last June in JAMA Pediatrics. The retrospective study also determined that the number of CT scans performed on children younger than 14 skyrocketed in the decade from 1996 to 2005.

Research published out of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle a few months earlier, in March 2013, suggested that use of CT to scan pediatric patients to be on the decline.

To learn more:
- read the study in Circulation
- see the announcement

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