Answer to Question #11145 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
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
- Health Physics Society. Radiation risk in perspective. Health Physics Society Position Statement 010-2; July 2010. Available at: https://hps.org/documents/risk_ps010-2.pdf. Accessed 2 July 2015.
- American Association of Physicists in Medicine. Radiation risks from medical imaging procedures. American Association of Physicists in Medicine Position Statement PP25-A; 13 December 2011. Available at: http://www.aapm.org/org/policies/details.asp?id=318&type=PP¤t=true. Accessed 2 July 2015.
- Bushberg JT, Seibert JA, Leidholdt EM Jr, Boone JM. The essential physics of medical imaging, 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 792–812; 2012.
- Image Gently: The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging. Available at: http://www.pedrad.org/associations/5364/ig/. Accessed 2 July 2015.
- Mayo Clinic. Pneumonia complications. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/basics/complications/con-20020032. Accessed 2 July 2015.
- National Research Council. Health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11340/health-risks-from-exposure-to-low-levels-of-ionizing-radiation. Accessed 2 July 2015.