CT Scans and Radiation Risks- Frequently Asked Questions

At Children’s National, we understand that families have many questions about their child’s condition and care. Your care providers may offer specific resources, but we also have some common questions to connect you with the information you need:

Is there an increased risk of cancer from medical radiation, especially CT scans? 

While no one can point to a single individual and say that his/her cancer was caused by medical radiation, it has been suggested in some studies that exposure to radiation levels during diagnostic CT scans may slightly increase the risk of future cancer. The evidence for this is still controversial, and needs to be interpreted against the risk of developing cancer over one’s lifetime. For every 1,000 children, 200 to 400 will eventually develop cancer during their lifetime, regardless of exposure to medical radiation (risk of 20 percent to 40 percent). The theoretical increased risk of cancer during one’s lifetime from a single CT scan is a small fraction of this baseline risk. Unnecessary radiation should be avoided, but for any child the risk/benefit ratio of each CT scan must be considered with regard to the child’s specific clinical condition and concerns. 

If my doctor requests a CT scan, should I let my child have it? 

The beneficial information gained from having the test should outweigh the risk of having the test performed. CT is a very powerful and valuable imaging technique that can provide important and even life-saving information. Sometimes, alternative imaging tests like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide similar information. However, there are many clinical situations where CT scans are the best test; you can discuss with your doctor if this is the case for your child. If your doctor has any questions, our pediatric radiologists are available for consultation. 

What steps do you take to reduce radiation to my child? 

At Children's National, we specialize in caring for children. CT protocols are designed specifically for the needs and protection of children. The CT protocols use reduced radiation doses determined by the age and size of the child, and are limited to the area of specific medical concern. All CT scans are performed by certified CT technologists with experience in pediatric CT and are overseen and interpreted by board-certified radiologists with subspecialty training and certification in pediatric radiology.

Who do I talk to if I have concerns? 

Any discussion should start with your children's physician. He/she has determined that a CT is needed to better evaluate your child's condition. If the referring doctor has a question regarding the suitability of a different study, Children's National's pediatric radiologists or CT technologists are available to answer any questions at 202-476-3550.

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