The use of radiological medical imaging such as X-rays and CT scans has become an important tool for diagnosis and treatment. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned about exposing children to too much radiation. Experts explain that children are especially vulnerable to the risk of developing cancer from the imaging.
On May 9, the FDA released guidelines that call for the manufacturers of X-ray and CT scan devices to account for the safety of children when using their current machines and when designing new ones. If manufacturers cannot demonstrate that their equipment is safe for pediatric patients, they must include warning labels indicating so. The guidelines will become final when the four-month public comment period ends.
The risk of cancer from the ionizing radiation given off by these machines is greater in children than adults. Because the effects of radiation are cumulative there is more time for dangerous consequences to manifest when exposure occurs as a child. Furthermore, the settings on radiological medical imaging tools are designed for adults, providing a much larger dose of radiation than children need to produce an accurate image.
The director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health cautions that the risk of a "medically necessary imaging exam is quite small when compared to the benefit of accurate diagnosis or intervention." He stresses that parents should not avoid imaging altogether. Rather, that they should discuss with their child's doctor the benefits and risks of imaging and whether there are alternative tests that are just as accurate. Parents should also keep a tally of how many imaging tests are done and at what radiation level.
The American College of Radiology suggests that parents ask their pediatrician the following questions before a scan is done:
· How will the scan advance my child's care?
· Are there alternatives that don't use radiation and are as accurate?
· Is the facility accredited by the American College of Radiology?
· Will the radiation dose be "child-sized"?
If your child needs special diagnostic care, make sure to find out if radiological imaging is necessary, and, if it is, ensure that your child is getting the smallest doses possible. Physicians and radiologists who fail to protect children from dangerous levels of exposure may be held liable for their negligence.