No doubt that CT scans are awesome in terms of accurately diagnosing a variety of conditions. Since they are so good at finding out what is wrong, they are often ordered.
You might ask, heck, if this tests are so good at figuring out what is going on, why not just scan each and every patient that walks through the emergency room. Well, for one thing these scans aren’t cheap. Some CT scans are billed at over $5,000, not a small sum, especially if you came in with a minor case of stomach flu.
Another problem with ordering all these scans is that many times we find something which would in all likelihood have caused absolutely no diseases but which we don’t know what to do about it. Then more tests and even procedures are done, all to find out that in fact this thing found via the CT scan was of no importance.
But really what the kicker is, is that these scans emit radiation and quite a bit at that. For example, most CT scans give off anywhere from 100 to 500 times as much radiation as simple xrays. Children are at highest risk of developing cancer from these scans, as kids live longer and the radiation thus has a longer time to work its nasty effects.
Here are some sobering fact: One in 300 to 400 abdominal scans will result in solid tumor in girls later in life; for boys about one in 700 or 800 will do the same. Leukemia will result in about 2 out of 10,000 head scans. Any CT scan before the age of 22 slightly raises the lifetime of risk of acquiring leukemia or brain tumors. And the number of CT scans in children under the age of 14 has doubled from 1996 to 2010.
Yes, there are alternatives to scanning. Ultrasound and MRI can often (but not always) be used to evaluate certain conditions. Neither ultrasound nor MRI emit ionizing radiation and have not been shown to increase cancer risk. Following guidelines allows doctors to determine whether some injuries or diseases truly require such advanced imaging instead of plain old fashioned bedside diagnoses. Finally, the amount of radiation in scans can be reduced.
If your doctor recommends a scan for your child, ask if there are any other alternatives (MRI, ultrasound or observation). Ask what information can be gleaned and whether or not that information would make a difference in your child’s health.