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Radiation exposure from CT: A guide for parents

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Topic: Tests & Procedures

This handout was written to answer some of the questions most often asked about radiation exposure.  Feel free to ask the radiology technologist or the nurse to go over any information you do not understand. This information does not replace information given to you by your physician or other members of your child’s health care team.

Does CT (or CAT scan) use radiation?
Yes.  With CT, an x-ray machine circles around the patient.  As it circles around, beams of radiation (x-rays) pass through the patient’s body to form a picture of the inside of the body. 

How much radiation is used?
All of us receive small amounts of radiation all the time—mainly from the sun and the soil. This is called background radiation.  The amount of radiation used in CT can be compared to the amount of background radiation we receive everyday. 
The exact amount of radiation received depends on the age and size of your child, with larger and/or older children receiving lower doses than younger and/or smaller children.

Is this radiation harmful to my child?
Even small amounts of radiation carry a low risk of being harmful.  The effect of a small amount of radiation is not clearly understood, but doctors think that it slightly increases the risk of cancer.  On the other hand, CT provides very useful information that usually makes it worth the risk. This is why the experts at Dayton Children’s are specially trained and experienced in providing the lowest dose of radiation.

How can the risk be lowered?
At Dayton Children’s, we use the lowest amount of radiation needed for each CT.  The easiest way to lower the risk is to have the CT scan only when it is needed.

Are there other tests instead of a CT?
If your child ever faces a serious or emergency condition that requires CT, you should not hesitate to do it.  In these situations, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Sometimes your child’s doctor may find that your child may be safely observed without having to have a CT.  Waiting may be difficult, but it may avoid having to give your child radiation.

Other radiology tests such as MRI or ultrasound do not use radiation and can sometimes provide information like that of a CT.  In some cases, these may not be as useful and are usually less available than CT.  Also,  MRI may require sedation, which carries other risks.

If the CT is normal, does that mean it should not have been done?
A normal CT provides valuable information.  If there is enough concern, then the CT should be done whether it turns out positive or negative.

What should I do if I still have concerns?
You should discuss any other concerns with the doctor ordering the CT. You may also contact Dayton Children’s medical imaging department: 937-641-3888 or 1-800-228-4055.


Derechos de autor(c) de The Children's Medical Center, ano 1999. Este material unicamente tiene fines educativos. No puede ser reproducido, distribuido ni modificado sin previa autorizacion de The Children's Medical Center of Dayton, One Children's Plaza, Dayton, Ohio, 45404-1815. Llame al 937-641-3666 para solicitar autorizacion o para obtener un juego maestro para copias. Para obtener mas informacion puede visitar (consulte la seccion de informacion legal).

La informacion contenida en este material es unicamente informacion de tipo general. No debe considerarse como completa. Para obtener mas informacion acerca de los complementos para leche materna, por favor pidala a su doctor.

The information contained in this handout is for general information only and should not be considered complete. For specific information about bathing your baby, please ask your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Additional information may be located in the Family Resource Center, 2nd floor, near the Outpatient Surgery Center. Hours of the center vary; please contact the Family Resource Center at 937-641-3700.

Copyright(c) The Children's Medical Center of Dayton. This material is for educational purposes only. It cannot be reproduced or distributed without permission from Dayton Children's.


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