Children & Radiation Safety

Posted by Rachel Masey

Wed, Jul 24, 2013 @ 01:32 PM

Children and Radiation

A CT scanner is a life saving instrument for diagnosing illnesses and injuries in children and adults. However, for children, radiation exposure is not ideal and in most cases being scanned can be avoided if you just get the facts! Minimize risks of too much exposure by reading up on what you need to know before allowing your child to be scanned.


PARENTS- What you should know:

Statistics show that by the time children reach the age of 18, they have been scanned over 7 times. In most cases, they are having an X-ray scan, which gives out a lower dosage of radiation compared to a CT scanner. However, about one in eight children are ordered to have a CT scan. Around 7 million CT scans are done on children in the United States yearly and that number continues to rise about 10% each year.

With all the advancements in technology, and the 'get it now/don’t wait' philosophy, people have become very impatient regarding just about anything in life. We all want and expect results right away! For parents, this mindset could be detrimental to a child’s safety. If a child gets injured the parent is most likely going to want to know what is wrong and how it can be fixed, as soon as possible. This leads to parents being negligent to their child’s safety. They don’t focus on the necessary steps when it comes to emergencies. They don’t take the time to provide the appropriate information of the child’s medical history and past exams, instead they demand answers right away. This puts a lot of pressure on the doctors to get answers ASAP and the quickest way to get answers is to give them a CT scan.

In some cases, it’s not even necessary for a child to be scanned. For instance, if a child has a head injury: they can be placed in an observed setting and usually within a few hours a doctor can tell if it is a serious problem or if the child is okay. The observation period is safe, a lot safer than having the child scanned. Take your time and make sure you are making the right decision for your child.

Another important fact is that Children’s Hospital’s will adjust their machines to compensate for child-size scans. However, if you take your child to a General Hospital (which most people do), chances are the child will be scanned with adult-sized dosages of radiation. It’s better if you don’t let that happen because children are a lot smaller than adults, therefore, they need much less radiation to gather results and they are more sensitive to radiation compared to adults. So in this instance, more is NOT better.

PARENTS- Know what to ask:

As soon as a doctor mentions that a child should be scanned, a parent should ask whether this test uses radiation. If the test does include radiation, ask if there are other tests that can be done that do not include radiation exposure to your child (like an ultrasound). If, in conclusion, a CT scan will give the best results and is imperative, make sure you understand what the test involves and why it needs to be done. Always provide past exams that the doctor may not be aware your child has done. You might be able to avoid   having the same exam taken. Also, be sure that you understand how this exam is helping your child. It is so important to make sure that the facility where your child will be scanned can and will properly tailor the scanning machine so that it is the correct size for your child. Another responsible question you should ask is if the facility and its equipment are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR). This accreditation guarantees high standards of image quality and the proper monitoring of radiation exposure. You can never ask too many questions, especially when it comes to the health and safety of your child.


Hospitals and Imaging Center should be aware that they need to child-size the kVp and mA in CT scanners when testing a child. This adjustment minimizes the exposure of radiation for the child. Also, usually just one scan, a single phase, is enough to capture the information being sought within an exam. Additionally, it’s much better for the child if just the indicated area is scanned and not a large part of the body that does not need attention. The Image Gently campaign website offers educational resources for radiology facilities in order to ensure safer radiation practices for all children. It helps explain how to “down-size” CT protocols so that they are not receiving the same radiation dosages as adults.

Check out their safety pledge and join other facilities in improving child scanning safety!

"Image Gently when we care for kids! The image gently Campaign is an initiative of the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging. The campaign goal is to change practice by increasing awareness of the opportunities to promote radiation protection in the imaging of children."        -The Society of Pediatric Radiology