With the exception of CT exams, the risk of cancer to a fetus caused by radiation dose exposure from a diagnostic imaging procedure is far less than the natural risk of childhood cancer, a report by the U.K. Health Protection Agency in Oxfordshire advises. However, pregnant women should avoid radiology exams that expose a fetus to more than a few mGy unless it is clinically necessary for the sake of the woman's health.
Issued in March 2009, "Protection of Pregnant Patients During Diagnostic Medical Exposures to Ionizing Radiation" describes in detail the health implications for an embryo or fetus when a pregnant woman has a radiology procedure. Produced in collaboration with the Royal College of Radiologists and the College of Radiographers, both located in London, the report updates its prior edition published in 1998.
The report includes the following guidelines:
The radiation dose to an embryo or fetus of any diagnostic procedure should present no risk of causing fetal death, malformation, growth retardation, or impairment of mental development.
A fetal dose of up to 1 mGy represents a risk of childhood cancer of one in 10,000, compared with a natural risk of one in 500 cases, and therefore is acceptable as long as the radiology procedure is clinically justified.
Fetal dose exposure in excess of 10 mGy that would occur as a result of a CT exam of the pelvis, abdomen, and/or chest, or a PET/CT exam, increases the childhood risk of cancer to one in 200 cases and should be avoided unless clinically necessary.
Diagnostic procedures performed in the first weeks of gestation when a pregnancy may not be recognized will most likely present smaller risk than if the procedure had been performed later in the pregnancy. However, procedures generating 10 mGy should be avoided if a patient has the potential of being pregnant.
Radiation dose to a fetus presents a negligible risk of causing radiation-induced hereditary disease in the descendants of the unborn child.
The report is free of charge and may be downloaded from the Health Protection Agency Web site by clicking here.
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