When a doctor orders a CT scan to help with diagnosing an illness or other concern in a child, it’s not uncommon for parents to be a little wary. After all, computerized tomography, or CT scans for short, do require the use of radiation. Since parents are protective by nature, it’s perfectly normal to be a little concerned and to ask questions about this test, its potential benefits and drawbacks.
In general, CT scans are considered extremely safe because they only draw on a small amount of radiation to perform their work. This powerful imaging tool is considered so valuable to doctors because it enables them to see inside the body to diagnose illness, track the progress of treatments or even help in ruling out certain conditions. Unlike a typical X-ray, CT scans produce images that are much more detailed, enabling more accurate diagnosis and treatment in the process.
Parents who are concerned about radiation exposure risk will find that it is very slight in regard to CT scans. A recent study involving more than 11 million children, found that CT exposure prior to the age of 20 increased cancer risk later in life by an extremely small margin. Researchers found only one additional case of cancer for every 1,400 to 2,000 CT scans performed. That number, however, is extremely hard to pin on CT exposure since there are many other causations that may arise as a child grows.
While the risks associated with CT scans are minimal, parents will find that this test is only recommended when it is absolutely necessary. It may prove lifesaving, for example, when severe head trauma is suspected or another life-threatening illness needs to be diagnosed, staged or ruled out. Should a healthcare provider recommend a CT scan, parents are urged to ask questions about the need, the risks and the benefits and then make an informed decision. The bottom line is that CT scans pose little risk, but they should be used sparingly to err on the side of caution.