When your child’s doctor orders a CT scan, X-ray or similar test, there are two big questions: Is the scan really needed? And if so, will it deliver a child-sized or adult-sized dose of radiation?
That’s the message from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday, as it took steps to help protect children from getting unneeded radiation from these increasingly common tests.
The FDA is pushing manufacturers to design new scanners to minimize radiation exposure for the youngest, smallest patients. And it posted advice on the Internet urging parents to speak up when a doctor orders a scan — to ask if it’s the best option or if there’s a radiation-free alternative — and to track how many their child receives.
Too much radiation from medical testing is a growing concern, especially for children, because it may increase the risk of cancer later in life.
Specialists welcomed the FDA’s steps.
“We know imaging is extremely valuable, but we can probably do it with less radiation,” said Dr. Dorothy Bulas of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, past president of the Society for Pediatric Radiology.
The use of CT scans, which show more detail than standard X-rays but entail far more radiation, and other X-ray based medical imaging has soared in recent years. The tests can be critical to a good diagnosis, and specialists say people who really need one shouldn’t avoid it for fear of future risk from radiation.
But research shows too often the scans are unnecessary — they’re given too frequently, for example, or in place of other tests that don’t emit radiation. Children are of particular concern because their rapidly growing tissues are more sensitive to radiation. Plus, they have more years ahead of them for radiation-triggered cancers to develop.