In the big picture, the increased risk doesn't greatly increase the risk of leukemia in children overall. In general, about four out of every 100,000 kids develop the specific kind of leukemia in question, study co-author Buffler said, and if the risk doubled the number would go to eight.
The results are surprising in light of previous assumptions about the safety of X-rays. "We're talking about fairly routine diagnostic X-rays," Buffler said.
Why might X-rays be so risky? Research suggests that the kind of radiation found in X-rays can cause cells in the body to mutate and create cancer, Buffler explained. And CT scans, which have grown in popularity in recent years, create more radiation than traditional X-rays, she noted. Future studies will look into the effects of CT scans on leukemia rates, she added.
The findings make sense to Dr. Anna Meadows, an oncologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.
"The bottom line is that any kind of radiation X-ray can increase the risk of cancer. There is a risk here, but the risk is small," she said.
"Doctors should not be ordering X-rays without a good reason," Meadows added. "But if there is a good reason, they shouldn't hesitate."
Learn more about leukemia from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Anna Meadows, M.D., oncologist, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and professor, pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Patricia Buffler, Ph.D., professor, e
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