CT Scans in Young People Linked to Increased Blood Cancer Risk

Yes, CT scans have side effects in those below 22 years old, this is recently confirmed by new research results.  A large-scale study involving nearly one million individuals from nine European countries has uncovered a potential link between exposure to radiation from CT scans before the age of 22 and an increased risk of developing blood cancers later in life. The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggest that CT scans, while valuable diagnostic tools, should be used judiciously, particularly in young patients.

Study Findings

The study analyzed data from individuals who underwent at least one CT scan before the age of 22. Researchers identified 790 cases of blood cancer among the study participants. Notably, they observed a strong association between the cumulative radiation dose to the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, and the risk of developing both myeloid and lymphoid malignancies. These include blood cancer forms such as acute myeloid leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and myeloma.

For instance, a radiation dose of 100 mGy was found to triple the risk of developing blood cancer. This suggests that a typical CT scan today, with an average dose of around 8 mGy, increases the risk of these malignancies by approximately 16%. “In terms of absolute risk, this means that, for every 10,000 children who have a CT scan, we can expect to see about 1-2 cases of cancer in the 12 years following the examination,” explained lead author Magda Bosch de Basea.

The study does not prove that CT scans cause blood cancer, but it does suggest that there is a small risk associated with these scans. The researchers say that the benefits of CT scans often outweigh the risks, but that it is important to use them only when necessary and to minimize the dose of radiation exposure.

Symptoms of Blood Cancer

Blood cancers arise from DNA mutations, but environmental factors such as radiation exposure or exposure to certain chemicals can also increase the risk of developing the condition.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), HIV, and human T-cell lymphoma/leukemia virus (HTLV) infections are also considered risk factors for developing lymphomas and leukemias.

Common symptoms of blood cancer include:

  • Fever, chills, and night sweats
  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchy skin or skin rash
  • Frequent infections
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms, or groin
  • Anemia

If you are concerned that you may have blood cancer, please see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Implications and Recommendations

While the study does not establish a direct causal link between CT scans and blood cancer, it underscores the importance of exercising caution when using these imaging procedures, especially in pediatric patients. Researchers emphasize the need for strict radiation protection measures and careful consideration of alternative diagnostic options.

Dr. Sarah McQuaid, Chair of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine’s Nuclear Medicine Special Interest Group, acknowledged the potential risk associated with CT scans in young people but also highlighted their substantial benefits in providing critical diagnostic information.

In conclusion, the study serves as a reminder that while CT scans are valuable medical tools, their use should be balanced against the potential risks, particularly for younger individuals. Healthcare providers should exercise judiciousness and consider alternative diagnostic options when appropriate.

Common Side Effects of CT Scans 

  • Radiation exposure: CT scans use X-rays to create detailed images of the inside of the body. X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation, which can damage cells and increase the risk of cancer. The risk of cancer from CT scans is small, but it is still higher than the risk from other diagnostic procedures, such as X-rays or MRIs.
  • Hair loss: CT scans can sometimes cause hair loss in the area where the scan was performed. This is usually temporary, but it can be permanent in some cases.
  • Skin irritation: CT scans can also sometimes cause skin irritation, such as redness, itching, and burning. This is usually temporary and goes away on its own.
  • Contrast dye reactions: Some CT scans use a contrast dye to help make the images clearer. Contrast dye can sometimes cause allergic reactions, such as hives, rash, nausea, and vomiting. In rare cases, contrast dye can cause more serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis.

The risk of side effects from CT scans is generally higher in younger people than in older people. This is because younger people’s bodies are still developing and are more sensitive to radiation.

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