Medical Imaging: Kids Frequently Exposed to Radiation

Photo: Person during a CT scan

Parents and doctors should be
cautious about the frequent use of
diagnostic tests for kids; © NCI

A new study led by University of Michigan researchers now shows that kids also frequently receive these types of imaging procedures during their routine clinical care, and highlights the importance of initiatives to ensure that those tests being performed are necessary and use the lowest possible doses of radiation.

"Our findings indicate that more awareness about the frequent use of these tests may be needed among care providers, hospitals and parents," says Adam L. Dorfman, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of radiology at the U-M Medical School. "Imaging tests are a critical component of good medical care, but the high number of tests raises questions about whether we are being judicious in our use of the technology."

Despite widespread discussions about the health hazards of environmental exposures in children, radiation exposure from the frequent use of imaging procedures has received less attention, possibly due to limited contemporary data in younger patients. As such, this study identified 355,088 children under the age of 18 in five large U.S. health care markets to track how often these imaging procedures are used.

The study found that over 400,000 imaging procedures were performed in just 3 years, with 42.5% of the children receiving at least one of these procedures and many undergoing multiple tests. The types of tests the investigators considered included everything from routine x-rays that use very low doses of radiation to more advanced tests, like CT scans, that require doses that are greater. Based on these data, the average child in this study population would be expected to receive approximately 7 imaging procedures utilizing radiation by age 18.

By necessity, the study focused on the numbers and types of procedures that were performed, and did not calculate specific doses of radiation that were received by each child. Data to perform such calculations are limited in children and are part of ongoing work by the team.

"What we've tried to do is raise awareness of the issue and start a national dialogue by identifying the overall scope of the problem," Dorfman says." One limitation of this type of analysis is that the clinical appropriateness of the tests could not be determined, he adds.

"The next step is to better understand when these tests really add value to the care of a child and when they do not," Dorfman says.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Michigan Health System