CT scans on children doubled


Record number of scans over the past year

The number of people having CT scans has sharply escalated over the past year, with the total number of scans carried out estimated to hit a record five million.

Experts, who are assessing the risk of scan radiation on health, revealed that the number of computerised tomography (CT) scans on children has in fact doubled over the past decade to reach 100,000 per year in 2012. The research is investigating whether radiation can increase the chances of developing cancer, with children defined as the most at risk group. Government-appointed Comare group however said the benefits of scans usually outweigh the harms.

CT scans use an X-ray tube that rotates around the patient’s body to produce detailed images of internal organs and other parts of the body. Scientists have estimated that 16% of the radiation people are exposed to in the UK comes from non-natural sources, with 90% of this coming from medical interventions.

Assessing the risk factors

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) estimated that the number of scans carried out each year reached a record of five million in 2013/14, with figures based on data gathered from a third of UK hospitals.  They have urged the government to make it mandatory for hospitals to report the number of scans and the doses of radiation they use.

Prof Alex Elliott, who led the committee, told BBC News “At the moment these surveys happen almost on an ad-hoc basis and that means we don’t have decent data on which to carry out the epidemiological studies. We need to know what the dose to the people was otherwise, we can’t work out what the risk might be.”

Though the group felt the majority of CT’s were justified they warned clinicians need to be aware of certain groups who are more susceptible to the harms of radiation. This would include children, since they have a longer lifespan during which they can accumulate exposure to radiation. A 2012 study even showed that over 10 CT scans in childhood could triple the risk of developing either brain cancer or leukaemia.

The Royal College of Radiologists said “Radiologists are more aware than most of the remarkable growth in the use of CT over the past decade. This has undoubtedly brought benefit to patients but carries attendant risks from the radiation dose involved. Clinical radiologists have always accepted their responsibilities in the area of radiation safety.”