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14-02-2011 | General practice | Article

X-rays pose cancer risk for children


BMJ 2011; 342: d472

GPs should be cautious about using diagnostic radiation imaging procedures in pregnant women and very young children because of a slightly increased risk of cancer, warn researchers.

They found that children exposed to such procedures in utero and before the age of 3 years had an increased risk for all cancers, and particularly leukaemia and lymphoma.

Of 2690 children with cancer and 4858 healthy children studied, 305 had received 319 radiographic examinations while in utero and 170 had received 247 diagnostic X-ray examinations in early infancy. There were also a total of 13,723 in utero and 138 early infant ultrasound exams conducted.

The results, published in the BMJ, showed no increased risk for cancer following in utero or early infant exposure to ultrasound examinations.

But children exposed to X-rays in utero had a 14% increase in the risk for all cancers and a 36% increased risk for leukaemia. Exposure to X-rays in early infancy also increased the risk for all cancers and leukaemia a respective 16% and 39%.

While these increased risks of cancer were all nonsignificant, the researchers note that there was a significant five-fold increase in the risk of lymphoma following exposure to X-rays in early infancy.

"Our results are particularly relevant in the face of growing use of diagnostic radiation characterised by higher doses, such as computed tomography scans, in children," Preetha Rajaraman, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, and colleagues comment.

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

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