Children appear to be at particular risk for future cancer from the 4 million computerized tomography (CT) scans conducted on patients under the age of 15 in the United States.
The CTs, said Bloomberg News, may lead to nearly 5,000 future cancers annually, according to the study just released by JAMA Pediatrics. The research also revealed that CT scans of the head, abdomen or pelvis, chest or spine in children under the age of 14 years increased more than two-fold from 1996 to 2007 before it began declining through 2010. Younger patients, girls, and those who underwent CT scans of the abdomen/pelvis or the spine were at greatest risk, said the researchers, according to Bloomberg News.
The study builds on prior research conducted in adults that found a three-fold increase in the number of CT tests in the U.S. from 1996 to 2010, as well as 2009 research published in JAMA Internal Medicine that estimated some 29,000 future cancers would occur nationwide due to CT scans conducted in 2007, according to Bloomberg News.
Rita Redberg, JAMA Internal Medicine editor told Bloomberg News that more research is needed to understand when a patient does and does not benefit from a CT scan. “There’s a lot more tendency to order imaging tests these days than we did 20 years ago for the same symptoms,” Redberg, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Bloomberg News. “There’s something in our culture at this point about ordering more tests, particularly high-tech tests. I don’t think people think about the radiation.”
Some 7 million CT tests are performed on children in this nation annually and that number increases about 10 percent each year, according to the Image Gently Campaign and the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging, which is funded by the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the American College of Radiology, and other organizations that are working toward ensuring lower radiation doses in children, Bloomberg News wrote.
The researchers reviewed data from seven U.S. health-care systems, calculating both the radiation exposure and the projected future cancer risks to those children, according to Bloomberg News. An estimated 4,870 future cancers may be expected every year going forward based on the 4 million annual pediatric CT scans of the head, abdomen/pelvis, chest, or spine, the researchers found. The findings did suggest that a reduction of the highest doses of CT scan radiation to the middle dose may prevent 43 percent of these cancers.
We previously wrote that another study found that CT scans raise the risk for cancer in children later in life. The study, conducted by international researchers, found that children who received several CT scans have increased risks for brain cancer and leukemia later in their lives. The study was published online in the journal Lancet.
It’s likely the average child will receive at least 7 tests that emit radiation before they reach their 18th birthday, putting them at greater risk of suffering toxic radiation exposure, something that could impair brain and body development and increase future cancer risks. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for treating children with these imaging tests.