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Health Tips for Parents

2009 Issues

Is CT imaging safe for my child?


CT Scan ChildNew imaging protocols for computed tomography (CT) scans have been adopted at all UCLA facilities to help reduce the risk of radiation exposure to children undergoing this very beneficial, often life-saving, procedure.

CT scans A CT scan is a medical imaging method that uses X-rays to generate detailed, specialized images of a body structure. According to M. Ines Boechat, M.D., F.A.C.R., chief of Pediatric Imaging at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and current president of the Society for Pediatric Radiology, it is often the gold standard for diagnosing many illnesses and injuries. “CT scans produce images of excellent quality with a very short time of radiation exposure,” she explains.

Although there is no direct proof linking radiation exposure to cancer, evidence suggests that radiation may have biological effects over the course of years, Dr. Boechat notes.

According to the National Cancer Institute, exposure to radiation has unique implications for children because children are more sensitive to radiation, and since they have a long lifespan, they may be exposed to radiation from imaging over a longer period of time. Evidence shows that children do not require the same dosage of radiation as adults.

Scan Images Image Gently In 2007, a consortium of organizations, including the Society for Pediatric Radiology, developed Image Gently, a campaign to raise awareness in the medical community about the opportunities to lower radiation dosages in the imaging of children.

“Children are smaller than adults, so it is obvious that we should not expose them to the same level of radiation as an adult,” Dr. Boechat says. The Image Gently protocols set forth guidelines of radiation dosages based on a child’s size and weight.

“By reducing radiation dosages, we hope to minimize a child’s risk,” she says, “This is especially important for children who require many scans over the course of an illness.”

CT scans provide valuable information

Sometimes, imaging tests like ultrasound and MRI can provide the same information as a CT scan but without exposure to radiation. However, Dr. Boechat explains, in many situations, the potential risk of a CT scan is greatly outweighed by the valuable and unique information provided only by CT. She says, “If a CT scan is best for your child’s situation, make sure that he or she is being exposed to the appropriate low-dose techniques.”

Be your child’s advocate

  • Ask whether radiation doses have been reduced for children.
  • Ask if other radiation-reducing techniques can be used, such as performing single-phase scans or reducing unnecessary exposure to unaffected body parts.
  • Make sure the facility is accredited by the American College of Radiology.
  • Make sure CT technologists are credentialed and that the CT scans are read by a board-certified radiologist.


This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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