"Despite the many benefits of CT, a disadvantage is the inevitable radiation exposure," the agency says. Children are more sensitive to radiation exposure than adults because their bodies are still developing. Also, children have a longer life expectancy than adults, meaning more time for cancer to develop, and multiple scans further up the risk for developing cancer.
Over the past decade, awareness of the potential dangers of radiation has led children's hospitals in the United States to limit CT scans, said Dr. Nolan Altman, chief of radiology at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida.
"Our CT numbers are way down," said Altman. "We are doing much less CTs than we did 10 years ago." Many of these are being replaced by ultrasound and MRIs, which don't use radiation, he added.
Also, manufacturers have reduced radiation doses, Altman said. "In general, the dose is 30 to 40 percent less than it used to be," he said.
"For the average child, who has one CT scan or X-ray, parents should not be concerned," Altman added. However, a very sick child might need multiple scans, and "then there more reasons for concern," he said.
Imaging saves lives, said Dr. Marta Schulman, chair of the American College of Radiology Pediatric Imaging Commission. "Even if you believe the worst prophecy that you would get cancer, the chances of dying from the injury is 100 percent if you don't do the CT scan," she said.
Schulman said it is to be expected that most of these tests are done in the hospital, where patients are the sickest. Also, emergency department doctors don't know a child as well as the child's own doctor, so they need these tests to make a diagnosis, she said.
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