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Health & Pregnancy

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Radiation Scans in Pregnancy Rising

Increase in CT scans, X-rays Pose Health Risks to Women and Developing Fetus
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 27, 2007 (Chicago) -- Pregnant women are being exposed to more than twice the amount of radiation from medical imaging scans than they were a decade ago, potentially placing themselves and their unborn babies at risk of future health woes, researchers report.

Although the average amount of radiation a woman received during any scan was well below the accepted limits for exposure in pregnancy, it's hard to know what the health effects will be decades down the road, says Philip O. Alderson, MD, chairman of radiation oncology at Columbia University in New York.

Exposure to radiation in pregnancy has been shown to place both the mom and her baby at increased risk of cancer; the child may also face learning and developmental problems. The health risks are cumulative; the greater one's exposures throughout a lifetime, the greater the risk.

Alderson, who was not involved with the work, moderated a news conference to discuss the findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Rise in CT Scans Drives Trend

For the study, Brown University researchers reviewed 5,235 radiological examinations -- X-rays, nuclear medicine scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans -- performed on 3,249 pregnant women from 1997 to 2006.

Over the 10-year course of the study, the number of women imaged increased 91% and the number of actual examinations performed on pregnant women shot up 125%.

A dramatic 25% rise in CT scans, which deliver more radiation and therefore pose more health risks than other procedures, drove the troubling trend, says Elizabeth Lazarus, MD, assistant professor of diagnostic imaging at the Brown's Warren Alpert School of Medicine.

The use of nuclear medicine scans increased 17% over the 10 years of the study; X-rays rose just 7%.

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