June 8, 2012 — The risk of radiation over-exposure is once again raising concerns, after a study published in The Lancet found that children exposed to high doses of radiation were more likely to develop several life-threatening types of cancer. Children exposed to at least 60 milliGrays (mGy) of radiation were three times more likely to suffer from brain cancer, leukemia, bone and blood cancer. A CT scan delivers roughly 500 times the amount of radiation as a chest x-ray — approximately 5-8 mGy.
The researchers based their conclusions on a retrospective analysis of more than 180,000 people from Britain, who were enrolled in the study between 1985-2002, when they were less than 22 years old. During the study, 135 people had brain tumors, and 74 developed leukemia.
Although the increased risk of cancer is small, the researchers warned that doctors should only use CT scans when it was absolutely necessary.
According to a 2010 study from Johns Hopkins, emergency room use of CT scans has tripled in the last ten years. The scans are undoubtedly essential life-saving tools, and they are probably necessary to diagnose serious injury. The immediate risk of death or injury without the CT scan likely outweighs the slight long-term increased risk of cancer.
Even so, this is not the first time experts have warned about the dangers of radiation therapy. A year-long FDA study from 2010 found that radiation therapy technicians were responsible for most over-doses of radiation during procedures. The FDA recommended increased training for technicians.
Most recently, the FDA has attempted to improve safety of radiation devices. In draft guidance issued to radiation device manufacturers in May 2012, the FDA wants device manufacturers to prove that their device is safe for children. Devices that are not safe would be labeled as potentially hazardous to children.
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