Ellie, who's eight years old, wears a brace as part of her scoliosis treatment. “It hugs me like a turtle shell hugs a turtle,” she said of her brace. “So I call it my turtle shell.”
That turtle shell is part of a strategy her doctor, Duke pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Robert Lark, MD, is using to keep Ellie’s spinal curvature in check. “Scoliosis gets worse as you grow,” he said. “If spinal curves get to a certain point, they require surgery to halt the progression.”
To keep tabs on how well her brace is working, Ellie needs frequent X-rays. “She’s going to get X-rays until she’s 14 or 15 years old,” Dr. Lark said. “At least two times a year; more frequently if we have to change her brace.”
Those repeated X-rays come with a downside. “The high dose of radiation exposure has been shown to lead to increased risk of cancer, especially thyroid and breast cancer, in patients who have scoliosis,” Dr. Lark said. He noted that scoliosis in children is different than in adults and should be managed by pediatric surgeons who understand how children’s bodies deal with radiation.