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Study: Future cancers tied to high rate of CT scans in kids today

On Behalf of | Jun 18, 2013 | Doctor Errors

A central point that prominently emerges in research that was published recently in the journal JAMA Pediatrics is that X-ray errors and other types of scanning problems can derive from many sources, which makes cancer risks — especially for young patients — particularly problematic.

A most obvious mistake, of course, and one that can readily lead to a medical malpractice claim, is a misread X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan. Such errors happen frequently in hospitals across the country, including in New Jersey, with ramifications that are serious and sometimes deadly for patients. Sometimes a disease or illness is not recognized when it should have been, resulting in either a delay or complete lack of necessary treatment. Sometimes miscommunication among medical teams and professionals brings about the same result.

Researchers in the recent study point additionally to another type of problem, namely, the adverse medical effects they say will be realized in future years from an excessive amount of radiologic testing that is being performed on adolescents currently.

The study team notes that approximately seven million CT scans are performed on children across the Unites States annually, a number that has increased immensely in past decades. Statistics indicate that the rate of CT scans in children more than doubled from 1996 to 2007.

There are sobering implications associated with that increase, given the radiation risks, with this troublesome point being especially apparent: Often a cancer that is directly tied to radiation from a diagnostic test is not discovered until years following the test, with the absence of time obscuring the fact that the cancer was ever related to radiation exposure received from a CT or other scan.

The report in JAMA Pediatrics states that the high numbers of pediatric scans that now occur each year in the United States could result in nearly 4,900 future cancers.

That sobering likelihood makes it imperative, say study researchers, for parents to pay close attention whenever the subject of an imaging test comes up. A caregiver should query whether such a test is truly necessary. If it is, due care should be taken to apply a radiation dose that is carefully tailored to a child patient.

Source: Bloomberg, “CT scans in children may trigger 5,000 cancers in U.S.,” Nicole Ostrow, June 10, 2013

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