Risk of malignancy associated with head and neck CT in children: a systematic review

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Oct;151(4):554-66. doi: 10.1177/0194599814542588. Epub 2014 Jul 22.


Objective: To perform a systematic review to evaluate the risk of malignancy associated with computed tomography (CT) of the head and/or neck in infants, children, and adolescents.

Data sources: Pubmed, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library were assessed from the date of their inception to January 2014. Additionally, manual searches of bibliographies were performed and topic experts were contacted.

Review methods: Data were obtained from studies measuring or estimating the risks of malignancy associated with radiation from head and/or neck CT in pediatric populations according to an a priori protocol. Two independent evaluators corroborated the extracted data.

Results: There were 16 criterion-meeting studies that included data from n = 858,815 patients. The radiation-related risk of malignancy was estimated using primary patient data for both the exposure and outcome in a minority of studies, with most analyses utilizing mathematical modeling techniques. The data regarding otolaryngology-specific studies were limited and suggested a borderline significant increase in the risk of all combined cancers after facial CT (incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 1.14; 95% CI, 1.01-1.28) and neck/spine CT (IRR = 1.13; 95% CI, 1.00-1.28). Cohort data suggest that 1 excess brain malignancy occurred after 4000 brain CTs (40 mSv per scan) and that the estimated risk in the 10 years following CT exposure was 1 brain tumor per 10,000 patients exposed to a 10 mGy scan at less than 10 years of age.

Conclusion: Detailed understanding of any potential malignancy risk associated with pediatric imaging of the head and neck furthers our ability to engage in rational, shared, informed decision making with families considering CT scan.

Keywords: adolescent; child; computed tomography; imaging; infant; malignancy; pediatric; radiation; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Head / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neck / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / pathology
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / adverse effects*