Answer to Question #11766 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Conception after exposures

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I am working in an operating theatre where a C-arm x-ray imaging system is frequently used. Does exposure to this system affect the male reproductive organs internally or create any issues related to having children?


The short answer is no, but I'd like to explain why.

I think the first piece of information is that it takes quite a bit of radiation exposure to cause damage or temporary or permanent sterility—at least twice the annual radiation worker exposure limit (50 millisievert [mSv]). It's highly unlikely you are receiving that much exposure.

The second piece of information is that, with all of the studies that have been performed following the children of parents who were exposed to high levels of radiation, we have seen no demonstrated adverse outcomes. So, with what we now know, it doesn't appear that radiation exposure to the ovaries or testes causes harm to future children.

And a little more information about your radiation exposure, which leads to a question I have for you: do you wear a lead apron or not? I will discuss both situations.

Let's assume first that you do wear a lead apron. The apron stops nearly all of the scattered radiation to which you'd be exposed so the amount of exposure to the pelvis area is insignificant.

Let's assume next that you don't wear a lead apron. Then there is potential for pelvic exposure. If you are in the room without an apron when the C-arm is operating (which, by the way, is against regulations in the United States), your exposure is dependent upon where you are relative to the C-arm. If you are greater than a meter away, your exposure is minimal. As you get closer to where the C-arm radiation beam is entering the patient, there is more scatter so you get a higher dose. Although it's a bit counterintuitive, the highest scatter dose is where the beam enters the patient (not where the beam is pointing). If you stand there, you can receive up to 1% of the radiation dose the patient is getting (so maybe about 3–5 mSv depending on the length of time the beam is activated).

The bottom line is that you should be wearing a lead apron from a safety and regulatory standpoint, but even if you don't, you won’t receive enough radiation exposure to affect the testes or cause harm to future children.

Kelly Classic, CMHP

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 26 October 2016. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.