Gentle scan reduces radiation exposure in pediatric patients

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In a flash it’s over. When it comes to imaging children, less is more. Now, advances in technology have changed the picture.

A drink of contrast solution, an iv for fluids … this isn’t exactly how Emily Romero would like to be spending her sixth birthday. But she’s handling the routine like a pro.

Eduardo Romero, Emily’s dad: “She’s happy all the time. She’s doing good.”

It’s not her first CT scan and likely not her last. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a year ago, Emily undergoes routine scans of her neck, chest and torso to make sure her cancer stays in check.

Dr. James Donaldson, chief of medical imaging, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago: “The CT scanner is the best way to do that.”

But the diagnostic quality images come with a price — exposure to radiation. Something doctors try to avoid in children.

Dr. Donaldson: “Children have a long time to live. Their tissues are growing and rapidly turning over, so the radiation effects can do more potential damage to children than in adults.”

For decades, manufacturers have been refining the technology. Just as important, doctors and technicians have figured out strategies to maximize the machine’s potential while sparing patients excess radiation. It’s a practice that’s part physics, part human touch.

Dr. Donaldson: “We used to use higher and higher doses years and years ago to get better quality images. We realized we can now get those quality images because of the technology changes without increasing the dose. And we’ve ramped up the speed.”

What once took an hour was reduced to minutes then whittled to seconds. Today, Emily’s scan took 2.4 seconds.

Dr. Donaldson: “This scanner can do a complete revolution in .3 seconds. People that are experienced in scanning children will know how to get the best images with the lowest amount of dose.”

And that’s the simple goal at places like Lurie Children’s Hospital. Another advantage of the speedy scan — young patients, even babies, rarely have to be sedated. If you’d like to learn more about the image gently campaign, go to

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