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Gentler Imaging: Hospital Reduces Children's Radiation Exposure

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Gentler Imaging: Hospital Reduces Children's Radiation Exposure

Doctor Showing Girl an X-RayMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health physicians are using new, more rigorous guidelines to reduce or even eliminate ionizing radiation exposure for children who need medical diagnostic imaging.

The change comes as American Family Children's Hospital plans to open a new pediatric imaging suite when the hospital expands. 

"Diagnosing kids through good images often requires a much lower radiation dose and sometimes, no radiation at all," said Dr. Bradley Maxfield, chief of pediatric radiology at American Family Children's Hospital. "The new imaging facilities will provide even more opportunities to minimize or eliminate radiation exposure for children who need a diagnosis."  

In August 2011, the Joint Commission issued an alert about the doubling of exposure to ionizing radiation over the last 20 years and potential link between repeated exposure to radiation and cancer.

Current American College of Radiology (ACR) guidelines provide only ranges for pediatric dosing. But Maxfield, two other pediatric radiologists, and medical physicists and researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health developed imaging protocols for all UW Health radiology clinics that consider several factors for dosing of pediatric patients. The UW Health pediatric protocol exceeds the ACR minimum standards with the goal of obtaining the highest quality images with the lowest possible level of ionizing radiation.

"It's a lot more complex than just turning down the radiation dose," Maxfield said. "In fact, just turning down the dose may not give you the quality image that you need to make a diagnosis."

Maxfield says the first step in the protocol is determining if a radiation imaging test is necessary in the first place.

"If we've got an alternative test, like MRI or ultrasound, that doesn't involve radiation, and it can perform at least as well diagnostically, then we're offering that alternative," Maxfield said.

The age and weight of the child also factor in the set up and optimization of scan parameters.

"The youngest and smallest growing children are probably the most sensitive overall to radiation," Maxfield said. "Radiation is particularly damaging to DNA of cells that are developing at a very rapid rate. We also think about different tissues that are most sensitive to radiation exposure. It's important to avoid overlap, and not scan areas of the body more than once."

The new imaging suite, which will be within existing space at American Family Children's Hospital, is a $5 million piece of a larger building campaign called Sick Kids Can't Wait, announced in February.

Currently, imaging of both children and adults is done at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.     

Maxfield said combining the advances in pediatric imaging with a facility designed completely with the needs of children in mind will further improve the safety of patient imaging.

The pediatric imaging facility is expected to open by fall 2013.

Date Published: 04/23/2012