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Low-Dose Radiation and Cancer Risk in Kids

October 10, 2019

Written by Clay Smith

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The incidence of cancer was higher in children exposed to low-dose diagnostic radiation than to non-exposed children. Be circumspect in scanning kids.

Why does this matter?
The key papers on this subject are all free full text, and you need to know them. A UK study estimated a risk of 1 excess case of leukemia and 1 excess brain tumor for every 10,000 head CT scans in children under age ten. You also need to read the sentinel Brenner article. And this estimate of lifetime cancer risk from CT in children is sobering. Here is another study that shows the same.

Just DONT (Don’t Order Needless Tests)
This was a retrospective population based cohort study of children 19 years and under in South Korea who were either exposed or non-exposed over a ten-year period to low-dose radiation (i.e. CT, IV urography, upper GI, bone scan, but not conventional x-ray). Of the >12 million children, 10.6% were exposed to radiation, and a total of 21,912 developed cancer in that time frame. The incidence of cancer was higher among children exposed to low-dose radiation than those who were not (incidence rate ratio 1.64, 95% CI, 1.56-1.73). This is yet another reason why we should only image children with ionizing radiation-based tests when clearly indicated and use the lowest dose possible.

Association of Exposure to Diagnostic Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation With Risk of Cancer Among Youths in South Korea. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Sep 4;2(9):e1910584. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10584.

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Reviewed by Thomas Davis

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