Nightly News   |  June 07, 2012

Child CT scans linked to cancer

A new study found a direct link between exposure to radiation from childhood CT scans and the risk for two common types of cancer. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> you might have seen the story today about children and c.a.t. scans and the risk of radiation exposure in high doses. it turns out the link to potential future cancers is stronger than we may first have thought. our report tonight from our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> as medical technology improves so does our ability to diagnose problems. but at the same time, we have unwittingly exposed ourselves to higher levels of radiation with unintended consequences. a new study proves a direct link between exposure to radiation from childhood ct scans and the risk for two common types of cancer. researchers in england followed healthy children for 17 years. their findings, those who had two to three ct scans were three times more likely to get brain cancer . and five to ten scans tripled the risk of leukemia. radiation is unavoidable and part of everyday life from sunshine to television to the food we eat. it's estimated the average person gets about 620 millirems a year. just one ct delivers about 200 millirems of radiation. in perspective, that one scan is equivalent to about five mammograms, 20 chest x-rays, and going past the luggage xri inspection at the airport 100,000 times. children are more susceptible because their cells are multiplying so quickly. that's one reason some hospitals have upgraded their ct scanners using machines used by siemens and ge.

>> everyone is pushing the envelope to keep the doses low as possible but maintaining image quality.

>> while mri and ultrasound can be radiation free alternatives, in some cases, a ct scan is necessary.

>> radiation is associated with some risk, but at the same time, it's very important that the immediate problem get addressed appropriately, and when a ct scan is necessary that it be performed.

>> no one is saying not to get a ct scan . but you should be an informed consumer, and that means not getting a test unnecessarily and asking would an ultrasound or an mri do the same thing? and sometimes a hospital just needs new software and that could be an up grade for as little as $100,000. sounds like a lot but not when you're talking about a multimillion dollar machine and sometime machines are old and need to be replaced. at least ask, is it necessary and does the machine give the lowest dose necessary to do the job right?

>> and i have to up grade my terminology, i call them c.a.t. scans, they're really ct scans .

>> we forgive you.

>> dr. nancy snyderman , as always.