Answer to Question #8394 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Exposures not directly to embryo/fetus

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


My wife had a breast-bleeding problem. She had mammography to diagnose the problem. After one week she found out that she was pregnant. Will the radiation from the mammogram cause any effect on our unborn baby ?


I understand your concern and I will try to explain why your anxiety and concern are not warranted in your present situation.

When your wife receives a diagnostic mammogram at a qualified facility, the exposure of the x rays is not to her embryo. The "scatter" that might reach the embryo would be extremely small and would not represent an increased risk for birth defects or miscarriage to her embryo. The most important characteristic of x rays that concerns us is the dose. You may not know that we ourselves are radioactive and we are exposed to many sources of natural radiation that we cannot avoid. Her developing embryo did not receive a dose that would result in any measurable increased developmental risk.

If she is healthy, is young, and has no reproductive or developmental problems or family history of reproductive or developmental problems, her risk for birth defects is 3% and for miscarriage, 15%. These are background risks with which every woman begins her pregnancy. Neither you nor I can change these risks. Good luck with her pregnancy.

Robert L. Brent, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon)

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 23 June 2009. 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.