Answer to Question #11145 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Diagnostic X Ray and CT

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I just found this article which talks about an increased risk for childhood leukemia with three or more diagnostic x rays.

My son is five years old and has already had four chest x rays (all looking for pneumonia). He had his first chest x ray at four months old and then three more when he was between two and four years old. Now I am really upset that he is at increased risk for leukemia. My doctor says that the risk is "miniscule" but that doesn't seem to make me feel any better.

Do you have any information regarding this issue? I am very worried and I feel like I should have declined the x rays. He had pneumonia though, so it might have been worse if it hadn't been diagnosed. Do you think that he is at increased risk for leukemia?


The available literature on radiation risk is confusing and often conflicting. The National Academy of Sciences has and continues to extensively study the effects of radiation on the population. Its most recent report estimates any increase in the lifetime risk of leukemia to an infant from the amount of radiation four chest x rays would deliver is very, very small. On the other hand, infants and young children are at high risk for pneumonia, a condition with potentially serious complications. The x rays your son received provided important information to your physician that allowed them to effectively care for and treat your child. The benefit from this information is significant when compared to the very small risk from the x rays.

Karen Brown, MHP, CHP, DABR
Steven King, MS, CHP, CMHP

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 11 February 2015. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.