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Kids and Radiation Safety

parents and their little girl talk to her doctor in an exam room

When your child is sick or hurt, you want them to get medical care right away. Often, getting an image through x-ray, fluoroscopy, CT scan, or another medical test that uses radiation is the best way to find out what the problem might be. But it’s important to use these tests only when necessary.

That’s because these types of exams expose children to ionizing radiation, which can be a risk factor for cancer. Exposure is especially concerning in children. For one thing, children are more sensitive to radiation than adults because their bodies are still growing. Children might also receive a higher radiation dose than necessary if equipment settings are not adjusted for their smaller body size. And younger patients have a longer lifetime for the effects of radiation to take their toll.

What to do? The US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical radiation devices, has some guidance for parents:

  • Keep track of your child’s imaging tests, and discuss this history with the doctor any time a new test is recommended. (Simply keep a record, or download one from The Image Gently Alliance)
  • Ask the doctor about the benefits and risks of the test being recommended.
  • Ask the doctor if other tests that don’t use ionizing radiation – such as ultrasound or MRI – could be just as useful.       
  • If it’s been determined that an x-ray, CT scan, or other test that uses radiation is the way to go, ask the imaging facility about adjusting the dose for your child’s height and weight.

Learn about the different types of radiation and how exposure might affect cancer risk.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.