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Radiation Safety

What Parents Need to Know about Radiation Safety

As the parent of a childhood cancer patient, you may have questions about your child’s care and treatment. You may wonder if repeated scans and tests will expose them to too much radiation.

If your child needs an imaging test (like a CT scan), the good news is that experts agree that if scans are medically necessary the benefits of these screenings outweigh any risks.

The radiation your child receives from a scan or test is very low. In fact, it’s comparable to the same levels of background radiation you receive living in the United States.

Research shows radiation from these screenings does not harm your child. 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. 

Your child’s care team will work to be sure they receive the lowest dosage of radiation possible.

Why Are Imaging Tests Important?

These tests give doctors a wealth of information to help diagnose and treat cancer. It is a way for physicians to look at a 3D image of inside the body. Doctors use these images to find cancer. These images give your child’s care team a better idea of how to treat cancer.

For example, CT images of organs, bones, tissue, and blood vessels are more detailed than X-rays.

Should Parents Ask If an Alternative Test Would Work?

You should always feel comfortable asking your child’s care team questions.

If you’re concerned about radiation from a test or scan, ask. Sometimes there is an alternative test. In other cases, choosing a CT scan might be the best option.

Here’s an example:

If your child’s care team needs an image of a certain part of the body, starting with the CT scan can sometimes ensure they receive less radiation and fewer tests.

That’s because an X-ray may not show what the team needs to see. It’s possible your child might need a CT scan regardless.

What Should I Do If My Child Has a Genetic Cancer Predisposition?

If your child has a genetic cancer predisposition like Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS) or DICER1 syndrome, then you may have more questions for your doctor. It’s important that everyone on your child’s care team knows your child has one of these conditions.

For example, LFS can put you at an increased risk for radiation-associated cancers. So, your child’s care team will want to limit scans and tests when it’s possible.

Key Points

  • Scans and tests can reveal valuable information that can help diagnose and treat cancer.
  • The level of radiation from these tests is very low (comparable to background levels)
  • Your child’s care team members follow guidelines to ensure they receive as low a radiation dose as possible.
  • Be sure to let your child’s care team know if they have a genetic cancer predisposition like Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
  • If you have questions about screenings or tests, talk to your child’s care team.

Questions to Ask Your Child’s Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your child’s care team if you’re concerned about radiation exposure: 

  1. Why is the test needed? 
  2. Will the results change the treatment decisions? 
  3. Is there an alternative test that doesn’t involve radiation?

What Are ALARA Guidelines?

ALARA stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” Radiologists, nuclear medicine specialists, and other providers use it to guide radiation doses for patients. The basic principle is that if receiving the radiation dosage has no benefit, you should avoid it.

Care team members use three guidelines to ensure that radiation doses are small, that it is used only when necessary, and that others in the room are protected:

  • Time – Spend as little time as possible near the radiation source.
  • Distance – Stay as far away from the radiation source as possible.
  • Shielding – Put something between yourself and the source. The vests care team members wear are an example of shielding.

Current guidelines don’t recommend shielding patients, but parents in the room and team members should shield. If you have questions about shielding, talk with your child’s care team.


Together
does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.


Reviewed: November 2021