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Study Says CT Scans Raise Child Cancer Risk

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, November 29, 2007 1:53 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: CT Scan, Medical Devices and Implants

CT Scans


  • CLICK HERE to read the article from the New England Journal of Medicine

  • CLICK HERE for general information on CT Scans from the Mayo Clinic 

  • CLICK HERE to learn the difference between a CT Scan and an MRI

  • CLICK HERE to read a warning from the American Council on Science and Health

  • CLICK HERE to read a warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
A new study has the medical field rethinking a diagnostic tool that's frequently used on children. 

CT or computed tomography scans are used millions of times every year in everything from emergency rooms to strip mall clinics on adults and children, but the authors warn that the radiation used may result in a spike in cancers over the next decades from the "super X-rays" involved. 

The article appears in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine by authors Eric J. Hall, and Columbia University medical physicist David J. Brenner. 

CT scan use has doubled since 1980 because of its relative low cost and ease. They offer a three-dimensional picture used to diagnose appendicitis, colon cancer, pain, and trauma and are particularly useful in the emergency room because of the detailed image they produce.

The scan rotates around the patient using an x-ray tube to capture high resolution images.  By comparison, a mammogram emits 3 millisieverts (dose), a dental x-ray 0.005.

But a CT scan can emit 10 to 15 millisieverts.

Radiation occurs naturally as well with the average person in the U.S. receiving about 3 millisieverts per year from radioactive materials in the earth and space. Areas such as New Mexico emit even more.

Six years ago the same scientists published a study with similar concerns which led to the FDA's recommendation to limit scans. However, that advice was not heeded. Instead, the technology has seen an explosion in use from about 3 million CT scans 1980, to 62 million last year in the U.S, including four million children.

Authors Brenner and Hall believe that 20 million of these are unnecessary. They warn that the cumulative effect of multiple CT scans has been observed in radiation-induced cancers among Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors.

Their cancer risk increased after the equivalent radiation exposure to several CT scans, 50 to 150 millisieverts.

For children, that translates to an increased cancer risk of one in 500 or one in 1,000. Younger children have an increased risk because of the longer life span and a child’s rapidly evolving cells.  

Old time clinicians have long complained that younger doctors too often turn to the latest technology when established tools, including clinical diagnosis, work just as well.

The alternative imaging tools, Ultrasound or MRI do not involve radiation.

Patients are advised to carry a CD containing previous scans if they have an ongoing condition.  Doctors suggest full body CT scans are rarely justified.


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