As CT Scans of Kids Soar, Experts Urge Oversight

Imaging most often ordered for head injury, abdominal pain and headache, study finds

TUESDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- The substantial increase in computed tomography (CT) examinations of children in U.S. hospital emergency departments between 1995 and 2008 highlights the need for appropriate use and interpretation of these exams, say researchers.

They analyzed National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data and found that CT exams of children rose from about 330,000 in 1995 to 1.65 million in 2008, a five-fold increase.

Head injury, abdominal pain and headache were the most common reasons for CT exams of children. The largest increase was in abdominal CT imaging, which was barely used in 1995 but accounted for 15 to 21 percent of CT exams of children in the last four years of the study.

The findings appear online and in the June print issue of the journal Radiology.

While they can help speed diagnosis, CT scans deliver higher radiation doses than most other types of medical imaging. This has raised concerns about the use of CT on children because their organs are more sensitive to radiation than adults' organs, and they have a longer remaining life expectancy in which they could develop cancer, the researchers noted.

In addition, the increasing rates of CT use noted in this study make it more likely that children will receive a higher cumulative lifetime dose of radiation than people who are currently adults.

The researchers noted that most radiologists who oversee and interpret CT examinations of children are not trained in pediatric radiology.

"The performance of CT in children requires special oversight, especially in regards to the selection of size-based CT scan parameters and sedation techniques. It is important to consistently tailor CT technique to the body size of the pediatric patient," study lead author Dr. David B. Larson, director of quality improvement in the radiology department at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a journal news release.

He added that medical professionals "need to think creatively about how to partner with each other ... to ensure that all children are scanned only when it is appropriate and with appropriate techniques."

More information

The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging has more about children and CT scans.

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