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Radiation Danger? Kids May Get Unneeded X-Rays

Children may be getting chest X-rays they don’t need, doctors reported Wednesday.

A look at the chest X-rays taken at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showed that the great majority did absolutely nothing to tell doctors what was wrong with a child, while exposing the kids to radiation.

“Chest X-rays can be a valuable exam when ordered for the correct indications,” said Dr. Ann Packard, a Mayo Clinic radiologist whose findings were presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. “However, there are several indications where pediatric chest X-rays offer no benefit and likely should not be performed to decrease radiation dose and cost.”

Packard and colleagues looked at chest X-ray exams ordered for 637 babies, children and teens between 2008 and 2014 at the hospital. They found 88 percent of the scans did not change how the child was treated. They’d been ordered for unexplained fainting, dizziness or vomiting, mostly. Another 39 showed pneumonia, bronchial inflammation or an injury.

While X-rays don’t deliver very much radiation, there’s still a worry. Children are young, their tissues are more vulnerable to damage, and they have a lifetime to develop cancer. A more powerful form of X-ray called a CT scan is more worrying — some studies have suggested that kids who get too many really do have a higher risk of cancer.

“I would like this research to help guide clinicians and deter them from ordering unnecessary exams which offer no clinical benefit to the patient,” Packard said.

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IN-DEPTH

— Maggie Fox