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, 65 (6), 481-500

Effects and Consequences of Prenatal Irradiation

  • PMID: 2692643

Effects and Consequences of Prenatal Irradiation

O Vos. Boll Soc Ital Biol Sper.


After a brief introduction about the historic development of risk estimates and maximum permissible doses of ionizing radiation, the risks of prenatal irradiation are discussed. Experimental data mainly obtained with mice indicate that the most important risk exists during the period of organogenesis and concerns the induction of malformations. Although in man this period lies between about 10 and 80 days after fertilization for most organs, the main development of the brain occurs later, namely between the 8th and 15th week after conception. Data from Japanese victims of the atomic bomb explosions above Hiroshima and Nagasaki indicate that during development the brain is the most sensitive organ to irradiation and maximal sensitivity is found between the 8th and 15th week after fertilization. A dose of one Gray received during this period induces a severe mental retardation in about 45% of the newborns. The dose response relationship is not significantly different from a linear one without a threshold dose. Studies of intelligence and school performance have shown that 1 Gray received during the 8th-15th week causes a shift of the average intelligence of about 30 points. Irradiation before the 8th week and after the 25th week had no effect on intelligence or mental retardation. During the 16th and 25th week sensitivity was about one fourth of that during the 8th-15th week. Although the irradiation of the embryo and fetus should be avoided as much as possible, the new data have led to an abandonment of the so-called 10-day rule. Generally an accidental irradiation of the embryo or fetus of less than 5 cGy is not considered as a medical indication for abortion. Retrospective studies showed that mothers from children who died from leukemia or other childhood tumors, had been subjected to a diagnostic irradiation of the pelvis or lower abdomen more frequently than mothers from children that did not develop a tumor. It has been estimated that prenatal sensitivity for induction of leukemia and tumors is higher than sensitivity after birth. However, it is still in discussion, whether the relationship between prenatal irradiation and a higher incidence of tumors is of a causal nature.

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