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X-Ray Exposure in Pregnancy and Infants May Increase Cancer Risk

For years, pregnant women have been told that a single x-ray won’t harm their baby. While this may be true – the radiation that you receive from one or two x-rays isn’t significant enough to cause adverse effects on your developing baby – new research suggests that a single x-ray during pregnancy may actually harm your child in the long run.

The new study suggests that children who were exposed to X-rays in the womb and those who had X-rays within the first three months of life are at an increased risk of cancer.

Research Finds X-Ray Exposure Increases Risk for All Childhood Cancer

This new research, which was published in the , expands on previous research, which had linked x-ray exposure in children born between the 1940s and the 1970s to an increased risk of childhood cancer, especially leukemia.

Radiation doses in those decades were likely much higher than they are today, and because of those research studies, it’s fairly rare for pregnant women to be given radiological scans. However, in recent years, there has been concern over the use of CT cans and other higher-dose imaging procedures on younger children.

The study, which was performed by researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, examined the use of ultrasound and X-rays among 4,858 healthy children and 2,690 children with cancer from the United Kingdom.

Among all these children, the mothers of 305 received one or more X-ray examinations during pregnancy, and 170 received at least one diagnostic X-ray in early infancy (before 3 months old). Over 13,000 ultrasound scans were conducted during pregnancy, and 138 ultrasound scans conducted on young babies.

Ultrasound exposure wasn’t associated with any health risks, but being exposed to x-rays during pregnancy and in early infancy slightly increased the risk of all childhood cancer and leukemia. The increase was small and not statistically significant.

While the risk for childhood cancer is considered statistically insignificant, the researchers still urge healthcare providers to be careful when using x-rays on pregnant women and young babies.

The researchers wrote:

“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.”

Read more about Radiation in Pregnancy in an earlier post: “How Safe is the Full Body Scanner for Pregnant Women?”

Risks of Radiation Exposure During Pregnancy

The CDC reports that radiation exposure during pregnancy may cause stunted growth in the womb (your developing baby doesn’t grow properly), deformities and birth defects, and abnormal brain function in your child.

Believe it or not, but unborn babies are more sensitive to radiation in the first trimester and first few weeks of the second trimester. If possible, you will want to avoid any X-rays or radiation between conception and pregnancy week 15.

The first two weeks after conception are considered the most fragile – because your baby is only a ball of cells. Any level of radiation can permanently damage one cell and lead to a miscarriage. If your little one does happen to survive, he or she may have lasting birth defects.

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts on this study?

About the author: 7sharov-spb.ru is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on , and .

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Alka August 30, 2017, 3:39 am

    Hi by mistake I am present when my son get x-ray and that time I m pregnant with 3 months 10 days. So please suggest me I am scared Plz suggest.

  • David June 29, 2017, 9:11 am

    There is no harm in waiting until after the pregency to have the xray. Why woman want to put their babies at any increased risk is foolish.

  • Cithadel May 29, 2017, 1:11 am

    As per my last period I am 5 weeks pregnant now, but i had assist my 1st son to do chest x-ray (twice shot) still that time i didn’t know i was already pregnant, i am really worried since my ultra sound appointment still far, i hope my little one is fine… please send me some advice’s.. thank you..

  • Bindu December 19, 2016, 11:50 pm

    haiii ….I undergone one xray when I was pregnant not more than one month…..actually i hold my son for taking xary….I wear lead apron also…..is it safe….I am so scared….please answer me…..

  • Iga September 30, 2016, 9:58 am

    Thank you very much for this great work but I have a concern, here in Uganda its as if its compulsory for every pregnant woman to go for scan at least once during pregnancy, but during my first pregnancy, I refused to go for because I was worried for my baby, & he is now 8years and is doing well.Am now 12 weeks pregnant for my second born, also this time roundam not planing to under take any scanning because of the increased rates of cancer,is there any side effect that may attack my first born as result of not attending to the scan and also to the one who is yet to be born? is there anything my unborn baby will miss because of my failure to attend to the scanning? Pliz advise

  • jasmine March 17, 2016, 3:21 pm

    Am scared, am 2 months pregnant and was exposed accidentally to digital periapical radiograph while taking 4a patient, I was in same room being treated. It was shot like 5times and I was there, didn’t know it was dangerous, now am soo scared, what do I do?

  • Nadia June 26, 2012, 7:50 pm

    Dear 7sharov-spb.ru,

    i am extremely worried.i was sent to do a chest xray while i was 22 weeks pregnant because they suspected i had TB due to a positve PPD tb test.
    i was given a lead apron just one to cover my stomach.What im worried is,what are the effects of that one chest xray that i did will do to my unborn baby?will he be deformed or have any mental or cancer later?what are the chances?pls advice.

    • December 14, 2016, 11:00 am

      When you think about it, that’s got to be the right anrswe.

    • February 15, 2017, 10:53 am

      Looks like a pic from the 80′s Most lifting shoes do have a wooden heel/wedge which lift you up a tiny bit for stability. Most people who lift in weight lifting shoes swear by them. I know Rocco (the other nick) has them and lifts in them, could always ask him if he likes them.Gonna try and do this. Hand isn’t healed and the ball of my foot still hurts a little…

  • rem November 4, 2011, 11:54 pm

    how to cope up with radiation, x-ray, during pregnancy? is there any possible solution incase a pregnant woman accidentally undergo x-ray? What is the best solution? for example 5 months pregnant…

    • 7sharov-spb.ru November 5, 2011, 7:56 pm

      If you accidentally underwent an x-ray, you are fine. There’s really not any harm in having 1 or 2. X-ray exposure in pregnancy is only bad if you had many x-rays.

      • Georgina October 9, 2012, 4:56 pm

        I had for x-rays done when I was 1months what should I do now I’m 11weeks pregnant?

  • Dauren February 16, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Hey, great info. I’m a follower now! 🙂 Feel free to stop by peasareyucky.blogspot.com and follow if you like it!

  • February 16, 2011, 12:52 am

    Wow! I had no idea! I’m definitely going to be reading your blog more in depth over the next few days! I’m returning the <3 from Bloggy Mom!

  • RachelsGiveaways February 15, 2011, 5:49 pm

    I think it’s interesting that you’re supposed to minimize Xrays for the first 3 months after birth too. I work in a NICU and some of the babies require daily xrays – of course, they are usually there for life-threatening issues so the xray is a necessart evil. Just makes me wonder what the long term outcome will be for some of them. They don’t even have protection because supposedly the level of radiation is such a small amount when the baby only weighs a couple of pounds.

    • DP February 15, 2011, 7:01 pm

      That is really interesting. I hope those babies end up all right in the future!

  • February 15, 2011, 4:05 pm

    I was always told never to get an x-ray while pregnant, just took it in stride as just one of thoese things, I never looked in to the reason why. Great to know, and makes you think about how much you can help or hurt your baby by your actions while pregnant.
    Thanks for the info.
    new follower from loanw.blogspot.com

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