X-Rays: How Big A Risk To Kids? UF Researchers Seek Answers

GAINESVILLE --- A team of University of Florida researchers is trying to come up with definitive predictions of the risks to children from different types of X-ray exams, an area that often leaves worried parents with unanswered questions.

The project will measure radiation doses and calculate risks from such exams as general purpose X-ray exams; CT scans, which provide a three-dimensional picture of a part of the body; and fluoroscopy, used to obtain moving pictures of internal organs. Medical workers will be able to use the data to the pick the exam with the least risk as well as provide better information for parents faced with tough choices about children's care.

"If a parent said, `When my child was 1 or 2, she had a CT exam, some fluoroscopy and several chest x-rays, could you tell me what the actual dose was?,' no one can do that right now," said Kathleen Hintenlang, assistant radiation control officer at Shands hospital at UF and one of four researchers heading the project. "If the parent asks what the risk was, nobody can give a quantitative answer."

Hospitals routinely take measurements from X-ray machines to estimate the approximate size of the dose patients receive. Though all radiation carries some risk, the exams can be crucial to medical treatment -- indeed, they are lifesaving in some cases -- so the risk tends to be small by comparison.

But no one knows precisely how much radiation children absorb from different types of exams or if it increases their risk of developing cancer or leukemia later in life.

Hintenlang, who is researching the subject for her doctoral studies in environmental engineering, conceived the study after noticing premature and ailing newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit received more X-rays than other patients in critical wards.

Doctors give babies more X-rays because they often use medical devices such as catheters in treating the babies and bec

Contact: Aaron Hoover
(352) 392-0186
University of Florida

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