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Pediatric Computed Tomography: Minimizing Risks

Linda Giering, PhD

*Medical Writer, Matawan, New Jersey

Address correspondence to: Linda Giering, PhD.  Email: lindagiering@gmail.com.

Disclosure statement: The author reports having no significant financial or advisory relationships with corporate organizations related to this activity.


Computed tomography (CT) is an important tool for the diagnosis of illness and injury in children. When used appropriately the risks are small and the individual risk-benefit ratio favors benefit. Despite this, radiation exposure from CT imaging in children causes significant concern and has raised awareness of the need to reduce exposure risks. Children are more sensitive to radiation than adults, have a longer life expectancy than adults resulting in more opportunities for expressing radiation damage, and may receive a higher radiation dose than necessary if CT settings are not adjusted for smaller body size. Improvements in technology have resulted in reductions in radiation doses to children. Minimizing radiation exposure from pediatric CT will reduce the negative impact on a child while providing important diagnostic information.

Imaging is a balance of radiation and quality. A CT study should use as little radiation as possible to meet the image quality need of the examination. A CT study that is nondiagnostic because radiation is too low may require rescanning, which increases the total patient dose. CT scans in children and adolescents are associated with a small increase in future cancers. The benefits of medical imaging outweigh the risks when children receive the right test at the right time and at the right dose. This review will explore radiation exposure in pediatric patients and ways to reduce this exposure without sacrificing image quality and diagnostic information. It is a shared responsibility among members of the healthcare team to reduce the amount of radiation children receive from CT examinations. 

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