Answer to Question #12605 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation

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

Q

I had a computerized tomography (CT) scan with contrast of my abdomen and pelvis after having pelvic and abdominal pain for two months and multiple ultrasounds that didn't diagnose anything. Now that I'm home and looking up the radiation information online, I'm starting to worry. They say that a CT scan (especially of the abdomen and pelvis) has hundreds of times the radiation of a chest x ray and my scan included my ovaries. I keep reading that radiation like I received (and even less than I received) can cause infertility and damage the ovaries. I'm 24 years old and very small, and it seems like young females have a higher risk. I'm absolutely terrified and feel like I've put myself at such high risk for nothing, especially since my results came back just fine. What should I do? Should I worry about fertility? My husband and I were just starting to try to conceive.

A

The radiation dose to the ovaries will not cause sterilization or interfere with possible conception.

Yes, high radiation doses can cause sterility. There is no doubt about that. But we are talking about doses at least 150 times greater than what you received (and probably closer to 500 or more times greater) (Mettler and Upton 1995). The low radiation dose received by the ovaries from a pelvic CT scan will not cause sterilization or in any way interfere with conception. 

Also, young females are at the least risk. As a woman ages, it takes a lower dose to cause sterilization (because there are so few eggs left) (Mettler and Upton 1995). But, it still takes a very large dose to cause sterilization even in older women; much more than one will receive from a diagnostic medical x-ray procedure.

The headlines you read are meant to scare you. That's unfortunate. The articles don't put the radiation doses in perspective (if the authors even know what they are talking about). A CT scan delivers a radiation dose about 50–100 times the dose of a chest x ray, but what does that mean? The reality is that neither a chest x ray nor a CT scan is going to cause harmful effects. The absorbed radiation dose from either procedure is simply too small.

Kelly Classic
Certified Medical Health Physicist

Reference

Mettler FA, Upton AC. Medical effects of ionizing radiation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company; 1995.

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 13 September 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.