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, this means getting an image through x-ray, fluoroscopy, CT scan, or another medical test that uses radiation. These tests can often help children, and sometimes even save their lives. 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. Children might 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 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 x-ray, CT scan, or other ionizing radiation imaging 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 master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


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