CT Scans, Kids, And Cancer– Don’t Fret

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CT Scan

Recent Blog Entries From Dr. Dave Hnida


Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorBig study out in the medical journal The Lancet which says that children who get  CT scans (otherwise known as “CAT Scans”)  have triple the risk of leukemia.

Scary stuff.

But do you need to freak out if your child has a medical problem and your doc wants to scan your kid?

The study looked at a group of 180,000 kids and found that those who had the equivalent of 2-3 CT scans before age had a jump in leukemia rates. Those who had 4-5 CT scans had triple the risk of developing brain tumors.

Researchers believe the reason is a CT scan packs a wallop of radiation and can cause cancerous changes to a growing body.

But two things to keep in mind:

1. The study did not look at any other factors that might predispose a child to cancer. In other words, they simply asked how many CT scans had been done and noted a higher rate in those who had been scanned.

2. The overall risk was pretty small. As in, out of those 180,000 kids, there was a total of 74 children with leukemia, and 135 with brain tumors. You’d like the number to be zero obviously, but yet 74 out of 180,000 is not a very high rate.

The bottom line: avoid CT when you can. But if you’re not a doctor, how the heck should you know when a CT is needed or not?

As a rule, we use them in serious head or spine injuries. We used to use them a lot to diagnose appendicitis–now we use more ultrasound. And in not-so-serious knocks to the head, we may ask you to hang for several hours in the ER so we can observe your child-perhaps avoiding a CT if he or she does well.

Don’t be afraid to ask: “Is this scan really necessary?” “What are the alternatives?” “What is the risk if we wait?”

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