CT Scans and Children–Consider the Risk/ Benefit Ratio

A new pediatric imaging study has been making headlines, but it’s important for patients to keep in mind both the risks and benefits of CT scans when evaluating the research. The study, published this week in Lancet, a British medical journal, claims that CT scans expose children to cancer causing radiation.

According to the researchers, for every 10,000 CT scans performed on children under the age of 10, one additional child will get a brain tumor and another child will get leukemia within 10 years of the initial scan. The research claims that these cancers would not have otherwise been expected regardless of medical imaging exams.

However, this article documents an extremely small risk. In fact, this figure is less than what we have been assuming historically prior to any evidence. But, the article also cautions that any decision on whether or not to scan should involve a risk/ benefit ratio consideration. The study does not change our assessment of risk in that ratio. Thus, the potential benefit from CT remains the critical determinant on whether to perform a scan.

As always, the ACR appropriateness guidelines help with that assessment. That also is the role of trained Board Certified radiologists—to know and advise about when CT scanning creates a risk/ benefit ratio strongly in a patient’s favor.

Remember parents, discussing the risks of CT with your health care provider should certainly be done, but be sure to get the full set of facts before refusing care that may save and extend a child’s life.