The first large study to examine the use of X-rays, CT scans and other medical radiation in children estimates the average child will get more than seven radiation scans by age 18, a potentially worrisome trend.
Most of the scans involve X-rays, which use relatively little radiation. But there is growing concern about CT scans, which entail far more radiation and can raise the risk for cancer, particularly in children.
The study found that X-rays of the chest, hand and foot are the most common. Forty-two percent of children had at least one radiation procedure and 25 percent had two or more during the three-year study period. Dental X-rays were not included in the study.
More troubling is that 8 percent got at least one CT scan. And more than 3 percent of children got two or more CT scans.
The rapid growth of CT scans, which provide extremely detailed pictures of the body, and other medical imaging in recent decades has led to big increases in the average American's total radiation exposure.
The new study, published online Monday in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is a snapshot of radiation use in U.S. children. It doesn't indicate, however, how often the tests might be used unnecessarily.
The findings are based on health insurance data in five markets: Arizona, Dallas, Orlando, South Florida and Wisconsin. The records of more than 355,000 children from 2005-07 were analyzed.
The authors extrapolate from their data that nearly 6 million U.S. children will get at least one CT scan during a three-year period. Scans of the head were the most frequent type in the study, followed by scans of the abdomen. One percent received two or more head CT scans.