Answer to Question #12247 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation

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

Q

I am 28 years old and I had an abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan two months after a caesarean delivery (C-section). Am I in greater danger of cancer because the CT was done soon after my pregnancy and while breast-feeding? Was my immune system strong enough to repair cell damages?

A

I can understand your concern, but you have nothing to worry about. The amount of radiation from the CT scan is relatively small. You are not in greater danger because the CT was done soon after your pregnancy. In fact, it is much better than doing it during pregnancy as the fetus would have been exposed. I don't believe your immune system is compromised during breast-feeding, and this amount of radiation does not cause cell damage that is unrepairable.

The effective dose from one abdominal CT is about 4 millisieverts (mSv). To put this in perspective and to give you an idea about how much radiation this is, I will make a comparison with an everyday situation. Everyone receives a small amount of unavoidable radiation each year. Some of this radiation comes from space and some from naturally occurring radioactive forms of water and minerals. This one CT gives your body the equivalent of about one extra year's worth of natural radiation.

The Health Physics Society has a position paper called "Radiation Risk in Perspective" in which we say, "[B]elow levels of about 100 mSv above background from all sources combined, the observed radiation effects in people are not statistically different from zero." In other words, the risk, if it even exists, is too small to be seen.

Ninni S. Jacob, MS, CHP

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 8 January 2018. 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.