Children's exposure to diagnostic medical radiation and cancer risk: epidemiologic and dosimetric considerations

Pediatr Radiol. 2009 Feb;39 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S4-26. doi: 10.1007/s00247-008-1026-3. Epub 2008 Dec 16.


While the etiology of most childhood cancers is largely unknown, epidemiologic studies have consistently found an association between exposure to medical radiation during pregnancy and risk of childhood cancer in offspring. The relation between early life diagnostic radiation exposure and occurrence of pediatric cancer risks is less clear. This review summarizes current and historical estimated doses for common diagnostic radiologic procedures as well as the epidemiologic literature on the role of maternal prenatal, children's postnatal and parental preconception diagnostic radiologic procedures on subsequent risk of childhood malignancies. Risk estimates are presented according to factors such as the year of birth of the child, trimester and medical indication for the procedure, and the number of films taken. The paper also discusses limitations of the methods employed in epidemiologic studies to assess pediatric cancer risks, the effects on clinical practice of the results reported from the epidemiologic studies, and clinical and public health policy implications of the findings. Gaps in understanding and additional research needs are identified. Important research priorities include nationwide surveys to estimate fetal and childhood radiation doses from common diagnostic procedures, and epidemiologic studies to quantify pediatric and lifetime cancer risks from prenatal and early childhood exposures to diagnostic radiography, CT, and fluoroscopically guided procedures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • Fetus / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiography / adverse effects*
  • Radionuclide Imaging / adverse effects
  • Risk
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / adverse effects