CT Scans for Brain Injured Kids May Present Dangers

Approximately 500,000 children under the age of 14 will visit an emergency room for traumatic brain injury each year.[1] Emergency room doctors often perform CT scans on children with brain injuries to determine the extent of the damage. New research suggests that CT scans may be unnecessary for many children with head injuries. In fact, the CT scan may cause harm by increasing the chances these children may develop cancer later in life.

CT Scans

Study Details

The study, penned by the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network, studied the records of 40,000 children suffering from minor blunt head trauma. Looking at data at 25 emergency rooms, the study reveals that 14% of the 5,400 pediatric patients received observation before doctors considered CT scans.

Approximately one third of children receiving observation later went on to have CT scans. Dr. Lise Nigrovic, a leader of the study explained how doctors decide if a CT is needed. “There are actually three groups of patients that come into an emergency room with pediatric head trauma. The first is the child that really has no symptoms and it is obvious to the doctors that the child is fine. The second is the child that has all the major symptoms, vomiting, headaches, unconsciousness, perhaps bleeding. That child is obviously a candidate for a CT scan. It’s the children in the middle risk groups – those who don’t appear totally normal, but whose injury isn’t obviously severe – for whom observation can really help.”[2]

Scans a Potential Cause of Cancer

Studies suggest that a child exposed to the radiation in a CT scan may face a higher risk of developing cancer in the future. The child’s brain continues to grow at a rapid pace. The new brain tissue holds radiation longer and is more susceptible to the dangers of radiation than that of an adult’s brain. In addition, the expected continued lifespan in children is longer, leaving more time for the disease to develop.

Observation can be Sufficient

Some doctors argue that watching an injured child for approximately four to six hours can tell them enough to know if a CT is necessary. It adds little to the cost of the stay, saves money on the cost of unnecessary CT scans, yet protects many children from potentially dangerous radiation.

Controversial Findings

Although the study’s arguments make sense, the conclusion that doctors should be alarmed about CT scans causing cancer goes too far. Studies show that liberal use of CT scan offers early intervention for potentially fatal brain lesions and hemorrhages.[3] Although the radiation from CT scans is 25 times higher than x-rays, the chance of developing cancer from a CT scan is small. In fact, no cases of cancer have ever been linked to CT scans.[4]

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If you believe that you or your child may have suffered an injury or illness because of unnecessary medical tests, contact our office. We have experienced professional attorneys who can help you decide what to do next. The first meeting is free.


[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-20061201-10391704/

[2] http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/09/ct-scans-not-always-necessary-in-kids-head-trauma/

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16966987

[4] http://www.cancer.net/patient/All+About+Cancer/Cancer.Net+Feature+Articles/Cancer+Screening+and+Prevention/CT+Scans+and+Cancer+Risk

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