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FDA: Protect Small Fry From CT Scans

Agency wants to reduce radiation exposure for kids, small adults

FRIDAY, Nov. 9, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The Food and Drug Administration has issued new recommendations to reduce the risk of radiation exposure for children and small adults undergoing CT scanning.

The new guidelines call for: adjustments to the CT scanner based on the patient's size, lowering the total number of scans, and using other diagnostic tools whenever possible.

CT scans, also known as computerized tomography (or CAT) scans, are a commonly used diagnostic tool. The CT machine takes numerous X-rays from all around the body that provide doctors with an inside view of the body. CT scanning is used on many different parts of the body, such as the brain, chest, stomach and pelvis. CT scans can detect blood clots, tumors, excess fluids and bone displacements.

As valuable as these tests are for diagnosing health problems, CT scans do expose patients to low levels of radiation, and radiation exposure should be avoided whenever possible. Children may be more at risk from radiation exposure because of their small size and because they are growing so rapidly, according to the FDA. Generally, though, the benefits of having the test far outweigh any potential risk.

To reduce the level of radiation exposure, settings on the scanning machines are adjustable. The CT technician can change them depending on a patient's height and diameter, so the level of radiation exposure is reduced as much as possible without compromising the scan's quality.

But it appears that those changes aren't always made. Several recent studies have shown that children may be exposed to more radiation than necessary when they undergo CT scanning, which is why the FDA issued the new guidelines, according to Thomas Schope, Jr., a radiation physicist with the agency.

"It's not clear how frequently scans are performed without the appropriate adjustments being made," says Schope. "It may not be happening as much as it should."

Lane Donnelly, associate director of radiology at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati and an author of one of the recent studies on reducing radiation exposure for children getting CT scans, says he thinks the new FDA recommendations are a "good thing."

They are "just one more thing to raise people's awareness that this is an issue that can be improved," he adds. But he says parents should be reassured that even if a scan is performed without adjustments, the benefits of having the test "far, far outweigh the risks."

What To Do

If your child needs to have a CT scan, Donnelly says to ask if adjustments are made to the machine for pediatric patients when you're making your appointment. If they're not, check with your doctor to see if there's another place your child could have the test, or see if there are any children's hospitals in the area that do CT scanning.

This article from the Children's Hospital of Boston explains CT scanning and gives information on what to expect if you must have the diagnostic procedure.

Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati offers this summary of recent studies on children and CT scans.

SOURCES: Interviews with Thomas Schope, Jr., Ph.D., radiation physicist, Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, Md.; Lane Donnelly, M.D., associate director of radiology, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; FDA public health notification
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