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New Study Suggests Observation Instead of CT Scans

Oct 18, 2014 Brown Moore Articles

When little ones suffer head injuries, it can be a traumatic event for both children and parents. Frantic parents want their children to see a doctor right away, and physicians (who largely practice defensive medicine) may seek CT scans to eliminate the possibility of any severe injuries. However, a recent study published in Pediatrics magazine revealed that children who have been injured would benefit from just being observed instead of immediately undergoing CT scans. The physicians who took part in the study were uncertain whether too many CT scans could cause cancer over time. Dr. Lise Nigrovic of Children’s Hospital Boston explained to Reuters Health that when children come to the ER, they may not have had enough time for symptoms to develop; or that a doctor may have a child with concerning symptoms, but may want to have some time before making a decision. Essentially, the amount of radiation in a CT scan is equivalent to spending one full day in the sun. However, the effects of radiation exposure accumulate in the body over a lifetime. The more CT scans over a lifetime, the greater the risk of getting cancer. It is impossible to know how much is too much, and people inherently have different tipping points. More doctors are concerned because children’s organs are generally more sensitive to radiation than adults. Children have a longer life expectancy than adults, giving them more of an opportunity to contract cancer later in their lives. Also, settings on CT machines may not be suited to young children. While it is natural to seek all the information possible to diagnose a head injury, the current and prevailing view is to observe children before seeking internal information. As such, parents should not be concerned when a doctor opts to forego a CT scan immediately after seeing a child with a head injury.