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Children and Radiation Safety


Is it safe for my child to have x-rays?

Medical imaging is valuable. Imaging examinations help physicians make accurate diagnoses that can lead to proper treatment for your child's illness.

Radiation can also be used to effectively treat certain conditions. However, there is a small risk involved. Everyone is exposed to small amounts of background radiation daily. Beyond that, radiation exposure can occur in different ways.

Some imaging exams use radiation; others do not

Many types of medical imaging exams use radiation to produde diagnostic information.

Plain x-rays, fluoroscopy (live x-rays) used for upper GI and lower GI exams, computed tomography (CT) scans, and all nuclear medicine tests involve radiation while ultrasound imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) do not. For more detailed information, see the Upper GI and Lower GI pages.

What are the effects of radiation?

Large doses of radiation from some procedures may cause temporary skin burns. However, a greater concern is that radiation may cause cancer. There is no conclusive evidence that small amounts of radiation cause cancer, but large population studies have shown a slight increase in cancer from large amounts of radiation.

Is the benefit worth the small risk?

To determine if the benefit is worth the risk, there are some questions you should ask your doctor, including:

  • Is the imaging test medically necessary?
    • If the answer is yes, then the benefit will most certainly outweigh the risk.
  • Can previous tests substitute for this exam?
    • If your child has had other exams that your doctor is not aware of, make sure your doctor receives copies of those exams. You may be able to avoid repeating exams your child has already undergone.
  • Are there alternative exams that do not require radiation?
    • Ask your doctor if ultrasound or MRI can be substituted.
  • Is the facility familiar with imaging children?
    • Children should have examinations properly tailored for their size.

One size does not fit all

With radiation exposure, one size does not fit all. This is a point of emphasis of the Image Gently® campaign, developed by an alliance of medical societies and professionals focused on radiation safety for children.

Are the facility and its equipment accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR)?

Accreditation in United States facilities ensures a high standard of image quality, ongoing oversight by a medical physicist, and proper monitoring of radiation exposure.

Additional Information and Resources

The Image Gently Alliance: imagegently.org

Image Wisely: imagewisely.org

This page was reviewed on June, 22, 2018


Radiologic technologist preparing patient for x-ray. View full size with caption

Pediatric Content

Some imaging tests and treatments have special pediatric considerations. The teddy bear denotes child-specific content.

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Please note

RadiologyInfo.org is not a medical facility. Please contact your physician with specific medical questions or for a referral to a radiologist or other physician. To locate a medical imaging or radiation oncology provider in your community, you can search the ACR-accredited facilities database.

This website does not provide cost information. The costs for specific medical imaging tests, treatments and procedures may vary by geographic region. Discuss the fees associated with your prescribed procedure with your doctor, the medical facility staff and/or your insurance provider to get a better understanding of the possible charges you will incur.

Web page review process: This Web page is reviewed regularly by a physician with expertise in the medical area presented and is further reviewed by committees from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and the American College of Radiology (ACR), comprising physicians with expertise in several radiologic areas.

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