A team of scientists have discovered that multiple computed tomography (CT) scans in childhood can triple the risk of developing brain cancer or leukaemia.
During a CT scan, a series of X-rays are taken to produce images of structures inside the body. X-rays are a form of radiation that can pass through solid and semi-solid substances.
CT scans are useful for children because sedation and anaesthesia are not required. They are often used after series accidents to look for internal injuries.
However, a team at Newcastle University have found that multiple CT scans on children can significantly increase their risk of other life threatening diseases like brain cancer and leukaemia.
In the first long-term study of its kind, scientist examined the medical records of almost 180,000 patients under the age of 21, who had CT scans at a range of British hospitals between 1985 and 2002. Because radiation-related cancer takes time to develop, they examined data on cancer cases and mortality up until 2009.
Writing in The Lancet, they found that the increased risk translated into one extra case of leukaemia and one extra brain tumour among 10,000 CT head scans of children under ten.
Current UK regulations state that CT scans should only be used when clinically justified, and the study proves this. Dr Mark Pearce, an epidemiologist from Newcastle University who led the study, said: "We found significant increases in the risk of leukaemia and brain tumours, following CT in childhood and young adulthood.
"The immediate benefits of CT outweigh the risks in many settings."
"Doses have come down dramatically over time - but we need to do more to reduce them. This should be a priority for the clinical community and manufacturers."
Parents can be reassured that if a doctor in the UK suggests a child should have a CT scan, these extra risks will be taken into account.
CT scans are usually carried out on an outpatient basis, which means that you will be able to go home on the same day as the procedure. If you want diagnostic tests and scans carried out on your private medical insurance, then look for a health insurance policy with full outpatient cover.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012