Radiation From CT Scans Poses a Special Cancer Risk to Children

Several months ago, I wrote about the discovery of an increased risk of cancer for patients who undergo CT scans. As a defective medical device attorney, I am particularly concerned to hear about the discovery of new risks from medical technologies that were thought to be safe. The radiation to which patients are exposed in CT scans — in many cases unnecessarily, since many patients do not even benefit from them — turned out to be at a much higher level than previously thought. According to a National Cancer Institute study, the radiation from CT scans performed in 2007 was likely to cause 14,500 fatal cancers.
This is a frightening figure. It becomes even more so in light of a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about the effects of CT scans on children. Children are even more endangered by CT scan radiation than adults are, and about 19,000 children undergo CT scans each day in the U.S. Because their bodies are smaller, their organs are closer together than adults’, so a CT scan of particular tissues or organs of the body is more likely to expose other tissues or organs to the radiation as well. Cancer can develop slowly, and since kids have more years of their lives ahead of them than adults do, they have more years during which cancer can grow from damaged cells. And while children’s bodies are more sensitive to radiation, they are often scanned at adult levels.
Despite all of this, studies of children arriving in emergency rooms have found that up to a third of CT scans are performed unnecessarily, or even repetitively. Children with head trauma, but with mild symptoms that did not indicate serious injury, were sent for CT scans even though they did not need them. Variation in how CT scans are performed, within and across institutions, also increases the amount of radiation to which patients are exposed, according to a University of California at San Francisco study. Different machines use different doses, and technicians are not always able to understand the machines’ manuals or keep up with new technologies. The machines could be programmed incorrectly as well, exposing patients to even higher levels of radiation than planned, as a recent New York Times article about radiation therapy for cancer reports. In fact, a California CT scan facility encountered a problem like this in 2009, when more than 200 patients were exposed to eight times the proper level of radiation, resulting in hair loss and skin problems.
While CT scans are an important diagnostic technology, clearly there is work to be done to ensure patients’ safety. Dr. Steven Don, a pediatric radiologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, advises parents to discuss with their pediatricians why any recommended CT scan is necessary, and to ask the CT scan technician what they are doing to make sure the radiation is at the proper dose.
As a dangerous medical device lawyer, I feel that parents without any special medical knowledge should not bear all of the responsibility for making sure that their children are not injured by unnecessary radiation. A parent whose child is in the emergency room is unlikely to be in a state of mind to have a careful discussion with his or her child’s doctors in order to evaluate the risks of CT scan radiation. Rather, the machine’s manufacturer has a legal responsibility to ensure that the machine is safe for patients, and that the machine’s manual is comprehensible to technicians. (Decision-makers at a hospital may also share some blame.) If the manufacturer fails to ensure that its product is safe, people who have been seriously harmed by the product can sue to recover money for their medical costs and financial losses, as well as compensation for their physical and emotional injuries.


If you, your child, or another loved one has suffered because of faulty medical diagnostic machines or from any other dangerous, ineffective, or defective medical device or drug, please call the medical device liability attorneys at Carey, Danis & Lowe right away. To learn more about your legal rights and options at a free, confidential consultation, please contact us online today or call 1-877-678-3400 toll-free.