Stories about: Alliance for Radiation Protection in Pediatric Imaging

Technology for imaging can be for treatment too, but where’s the line between them?

On any given day thousands of patients around the world—children and adults—will get an x-ray. What they probably won’t think about while sitting on the table wearing one of those lead aprons, though, is how at that moment the same technology being used to take a picture of their arm or leg or skull is also helping an oncologist treat a cancer patient’s tumor.

X-rays—rather, the radiation used to take an x-ray—are just one example of how many of the energies used to take pictures of the body can also have direct treatment applications. Sometimes the same radiation that takes an x-ray picture is used to zap tumor cells. The difference from one to the other is merely a matter of power.

“It’s like sunshine,” explains Ellen Grant, MD, a neuroradiologist trained in theoretical physics and director of the Fetal-Neonatal Neuroimaging and Developmental Science Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “A little is completely safe and healthy. But too much can burn.”

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How Boston Children’s reduces radiation exposure

The medical journal The Lancet recently released a study that reports that children who get multiple computed tomography (CT) scans are at slightly increased risk for brain cancer and leukemia.

While the news may alarm parents, it’s something Boston Children’s Hospital has been aware of for some time. In fact, Boston Children’s has for years been at the forefront of a movement to reduce the levels of radiation exposure to young patients.

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Children’s continues efforts to reduce radiation imaging

Children's CT scanners have pediatric settings and have been modified to look less intimidating to young patients

A recently released report suggests some doctors are relying too heavily on certain imaging tests–which may contribute to the rising costs of medical care as well as exposing patients to unnecessary amounts of radiation. The report’s findings are of special concern for younger patients, who are more susceptible to risks associated with radiation than adults.

In response, the staff of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging is working to keep the radiation dose given to patients as low as possible while providing all the information doctors need to treat patients. Imagers at Children’s who use CT (computed tomography) scans to produce high-quality images of inside their patient’s bodies have gone to great lengths to ensure their procedures are as safe as possible.

“No concrete published data has linked radiation damage to the radiation dose level of a CT scan, but the small potential risk suggests that all reasonable efforts should be made to reduce these radiation dose levels when imaging children,” says Keith Strauss, M.Sc, director, Radiology Physics and Engineering at Children’s Hospital Boston.

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