Slight childhood cancer risk from x-ray during pregnancy, infancy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
X-ray during pregnancy and infancy.

Researchers warn clinicians to use x-ray diagnostics with caution during pregnancy and infancy because they could raise the risk of cancer in children.

In a study finding, scientists found x-rays during pregnancy and under age 3 months raised the chances of childhood cancer slightly. They note the findings are also consistent with physicians might have expected.

Prior research found x-rays during pregnancy from higher dose radiation was linked to childhood cancer, especially leukemia. Those studies were conducted between the 1940s and the 1970s when radiation doses delivered with diagnostic x-rays were higher than present standards allow.

Researchers looked at data from 2,690 children with cancer and 4,858 healthy children from the UK Childhood Cancer Study (UKCCS) born between 1976 and 1996, examining the incidence of childhood cancer overall, and leukemia, lymphoma, and central nervous system tumours.


Among the children studied, 305 received 319 radiographic and related examinations prior to birth and 170 children received 247 diagnostic x-ray examinations in early infancy, finding the slightly higher but insignificant risk of all cancer types.

The study authors concluded, "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." The number of cancer cases found was 7.

The researchers also note x-rays of the abdomen and pelvis are rarely performed on pregnant women, but due to increasing concerns about radiation and cancer risk, clinicians should use caution when considering x-rays during pregnancy and infancy that was found to slightly increase the chances of childhood cancer. There was no association between ultrasound and cancer risk found in the study.