Pregnancy and medical radiation

Ann ICRP. 2000;30(1):iii-viii, 1-43. doi: 10.1016/s0146-6453(00)00037-3.


Thousands of pregnant patients and radiation workers are exposed to ionising radiation each year. Lack of knowledge is responsible for great anxiety and probably unnecessary termination of pregnancies. For many patients, the exposure is appropriate, while for others the exposure may be inappropriate, placing the unborn child at increased risk. Prenatal doses from most properly done diagnostic procedures present no measurably increased risk of prenatal death, malformation, or impairment of mental development over the background incidence of these entities. Higher doses, such as those involved in therapeutic procedures, can result in significant fetal harm. The pregnant patient or worker has a right to know the magnitude and type of potential radiation effects that might result from in utero exposure. Almost always, if a diagnostic radiology examination is medically indicated, the risk to the mother of not doing the procedure is greater than is the risk of potential harm to the fetus. Most nuclear medicine procedures do not cause large fetal doses. However, some radiopharmaceuticals that are used in nuclear medicine can pose significant fetal risks. It is important to ascertain whether a female patient is pregnant prior to radiotherapy. In pregnant patients, cancers that are remote from the pelvis usually can be heated with radiotherapy. This however requires careful planning. Cancers in the pelvis cannot be adequately treated during pregnancy without severe or lethal consequences for the fetus. The basis for the control of the occupational exposure of women who are not pregnant is the same as that for men. However, if a woman is, or may be, pregnant, additional controls have to be considered to protect the unborn child. In many countries, radiation exposure of pregnant females in biomedical research is not specifically prohibited. However, their involvement in such research is very rare and should be discouraged. Termination of pregnancy is an individual decision affected by many factors. Fetal doses below 100 mGy should not be considered a reason for terminating a pregnancy. At fetal doses above this level, informed decisions should be made based upon individual circumstances.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Female
  • Fetus / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced
  • Occupational Health*
  • Pregnancy / radiation effects*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / radiotherapy*
  • Teleradiology