Health Team

Low-dose X-rays curb radiation risks for scoliosis patients

Posted April 14
Updated April 15

About 3 percent of children are diagnosed with scoliosis or a curvature of the spine, and many of those children will need corrective braces and frequent X-rays.

A new low-dose X-ray greatly reduces health risks from all that radiation.

For 22 hours a day, 8-year-old Ellie Garman wears a custom body brace.

She has a special name for it.

"It hugs me, like a turtle shell hugs a turtle, so I decided to call it my turtle shell," Garman said.

More than a year ago, during a doctor's visit,Garman's pediatrician noticed a curve in her spine and referred her family to Duke University Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Lark.

His goal is to avoid surgery by using a series of corrective braces.

"As (Garman) grows, she's going to outgrow these braces the same way she outgrows her clothes," Lark said. "So, she'll have to be refitted for a new one roughly once a year."

New braces require new X-rays—many of them.

If done with conventional X-rays, the radiation doses increase future health risks, such as breast cancer. Garman's family already has a history of breast cancer.

"It was important for us as a family to minimize that risk," said Katie Garman, Ellie's mother.

Now, Duke has EOS, a low dose, 3D imaging system that scans patients as they stand still.

"(The system) allows for weight-bearing load (to be) applied through the spine," Lark said.

EOS does the job at just one-tenth the amount of radiation as a conventional X-ray, and provides a more detailed image of the spine.

"So, I can measure the height of each vertebral body down to a millimeter or tenth of a millimeter," Lark said.

That data helps in the design of new braces, which Ellie Garman will need to wear until she stops growing.

Ellie Garman now carefully plans two or three hours on days when she can leave her "turtle shell" off, such as when her grandparents visit.

"Because I like to hug them and feel them when they hug me," Ellie Garman said.

Lark says that although scoliosis in children occurs just as much in boys as girls, girls are much more likely to require surgical correction if early detection leading to corrective brace therapy isn't achieved.


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