What Parents Should Know About Imaging

Radiation Exposure from Imaging Procedures at Boston Children's

As part of your child's medical care at Boston Children's Hospital, he or she might need to undergo an imaging study or scan to diagnose the presence or absence of disease. 

Some of these imaging tests use ionizing radiation such as X-rays, nuclear medicine studies or CT scans. You may have read about the potential risk derived from radiation from imaging tests. The purpose of this discussion is to let you know that Children's takes radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging very seriously and our professionals go to great lengths to ensure that these tests are performed with the lowest possible radiation exposure to patients and families. First, it's important to note that, while epidemiologic studies suggest that there is a very small risk of developing cancer over one’s lifetime associated with large exposures to ionizing radiation, no study has shown a measurable risk from the small amounts used in a single diagnostic imaging examination. However, although it is prudent to assume that each small exposure poses a slight risk, if the procedure is appropriately performed, the benefit to your child will greatly outweigh the risk of being exposed to a small amount of radiation.

Staff members at Children's, who are experts in the use of diagnostic imaging tests that utilize ionizing radiation, routinely follow three steps to reduce the risk to patients and families:

Studies that involve radiation are only used when they are deemed the most appropriate test for a particular patient. Diagnostic examinations that do not involve ionizing radiation, like ultrasound or MRI, are substituted for examinations using ionizing radiation, when appropriate. In addition, steps are taken to reduce the need for multiple studies involving radiation.

When an X-ray, CT scan or nuclear medicine study is performed, our techniques are designed to ensure that the radiation dose is reduced to the amount needed to provide a diagnostic quality examination.

The imaging equipment as well as pharmaceuticals or contrast agents needed to be given to the patient for some studies are properly calibrated and optimized for the special imaging needs of your child. This helps ensure the best possible result and greatest safety at the lowest necessary radiation level.

Physicians, technologists, medical physicists and radiation safety professionals all play a role in assuring the best diagnostic image quality while minimizing patient radiation exposure. The professionals that oversee the use of ionizing radiation at Children's are leading national and international efforts towards radiation dose reduction through programs such as the "Image Gently" campaign, which aims to keep the medical use of radiation as safe as possible for children.

Further information about these efforts may be found at the website of the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging. If you have any specific questions regarding X-ray exposure, please contact Kevin Buckley, MSc, our X-ray Safety Officer, at (617) 355-7182 or via email. For specific questions regarding Nuclear Medicine radiation exposure, please contact William A. Lorenzen, MS, our Radiation Safety Officer, at (617) 355-7517 or via email.