Experts urge even greater caution in use of X-rays during pregnancy and infancy

February 10, 2011

Clinicians should be careful about using x-rays on pregnant women and infants because of the potential for a slight increase in the risk of children developing cancer, concludes a new study published in the British Medical Journal today.

The study is consistent with what doctors have long suspected, and why women of childbearing age are always asked about the possibility of pregnancy before being x- rayed.

A UK-US collaborative study found small increases in risk of cancer for children who had x-rays at ages less than three months and in children whose mothers had undergone an x-ray while pregnant. These increases were not statistically significant. The researchers report no increased risk from ultrasound scans.

Researchers studied the childhood cancer risk associated with exposure to radiation and ultrasound scans during gestation (in utero) and in early infancy.

Previous studies of children born between the 1940s and the 1970s, when radiation doses were likely to be higher, found in utero x-ray exposure to be associated with an increased risk of childhood cancer, particularly leukaemia. The effect of medical radiation on young children has been less clear.

Although diagnostic x-rays and other radiological imaging procedures to the abdomen and pelvis of pregnant women are rare, there are concerns about the growing use of computed tomography (CT) scans and other types of higher-dose imaging procedures on younger children.

Furthermore, much of the existing data are based on interviews, allowing for the distinct possibility of misclassification, recall bias, or both as regards exposure.

Researchers compiled data on 2,690 children with cancer and 4,858 healthy children from the UK Childhood Cancer Study (UKCCS). All children were born between 1976 and 1996. Data on exposure to radiographic and ultrasound examinations were collected from medical records

A total of 305 children received 319 radiographic and related examinations while in utero and 170 children received 247 diagnostic x-ray examinations in early infancy. A total of 13,723 in utero and 138 early infant ultrasound scans were carried out.

Researchers measured the risk of overall, and leukaemia, lymphoma, and central nervous system tumours specifically.

Results showed a slightly heightened risk following in utero exposure to x-rays for all cancers and for leukemia, though neither was statistically significant.

Exposure to diagnostic in early infancy was found to be associated with a small, non-significant extra risk for all cancers and leukemia, as well as increased risk of lymphoma, but this finding was based on small numbers (only seven cases).

The researchers conclude: "Our results, which indicate possible risks of cancer from radiation at doses lower than those associated with CT scans, suggest a need for cautious use of diagnostic radiation imaging procedures to the abdomen/pelvis of the mother during pregnancy and in children at very young ages."

Explore further: Radiation increases risk of second primary tumors for childhood survivors

Related Stories

Studies quantify radiation doses, cancer risks from CT scans

December 15, 2009

Doses of radiation from commonly performed computed tomography (CT) scans vary widely, appear higher than generally believed and may contribute to an estimated tens of thousands of future cancer cases, according to two reports ...

X-rays linked to increased childhood leukemia risk

October 4, 2010

Diagnostic X-rays may increase the risk of developing childhood leukemia, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.

Decades after childhood radiation, thyroid cancer a concern

December 16, 2010

When children are exposed to head and neck radiation, whether due to cancer treatment or multiple diagnostic CT scans, the result is an increased risk of thyroid cancer for the next 58 years or longer, according to University ...

Average child may get 7 radiation scans by age 18

January 3, 2011

(AP) -- The first large study to examine the use of X-rays, CT scans and other medical radiation in children estimates the average child will get more than seven radiation scans by age 18, a potentially worrisome trend.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.