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A CT (computed tomography) scan is a test that uses computers and X-rays. It takes detailed, 3D images of the inside of the body.
CT scans can:
The appointment may only take 10-20 minutes.
The scan itself only lasts a few seconds. But it may be repeated if your child needs a test with a contrast agent.
Contrast agents are clear liquids that may be swallowed or injected.
Each center has its own procedures. But this general advice can help most families.
Preparing for the scan: Be sure your child dresses in loose, comfortable clothing. Avoid clothing and accessories that contain metal. That includes:
Be sure to let the care team know if your child:
Most centers will allow your child to bring a comfort item, like a stuffed animal or a blanket. Ask your care team if your child can bring a comfort item to the appointment.
Your child will only be sedated for a CT scan if they need it to stay still during the test.
Images can blur if your child doesn’t stay still. So, remaining still during the test is important. It can help if you tell your child to pretend to be a statue. Or they can pretend to be asleep.
Depending on your child’s age, they may be asked to hold their breath for a moment.
If the CT scan is medically necessary, experts say the benefits outweigh the small, long-term risk of radiation exposure.
The scans give doctors a wealth of information to help diagnose and treat cancer.
CT images of organs, bones, tissue, and blood vessels are more detailed than X-rays . These images can be reformatted in multiple planes. They can produce 3D images.
CT scans use a small amount of radiation. The radiation will be adjusted according to your child’s age and size. Most centers work to reduce the dose of radiation.
Radiation exposure from CT scans affects children differently than adults. Children are more sensitive to radiation. This is because they are still growing. Also, they have a longer life expectancy than adults. That means there is more time for radiation-related side effects, including the very low risk of cancer, to develop.
The lifetime risk of cancer from a single CT is small. It’s about 1 case for every 10,000 scans in children, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The risk increases when multiple CTs are performed.
Here are some questions to ask your child’s care team if you are concerned about radiation exposure:
If you have any questions about CT safety, talk with your child’s care team.
Reviewed: August 2022