Pregnant Patient -X-ray examination

What are X-rays?

X-rays are a form of radiation. This kind of radiation is invisible. X-rays are used to make images of bones and organs in your body. They have been associated with a very small increased risk of cancer, particularly leukaemia, for an unborn baby. But the risk is very small.

Is it safe to have an X-ray and be exposed to ionising radiation whilst I’m pregnant?

Yes, X-rays are generally safe in pregnancy. If your referring doctor finds you need an X-ray for a medical problem or injury, they will weigh up the benefit to you versus the risk to your baby.

Do all types of examinations have the same amount of radiation?

No. Different types of examinations expose you to different levels of radiation. Your referring doctor will take this into account, and the examination with the smallest dose of radiation will be chosen.

What are the risks involved?

Any X-ray involving exposure to radiation comes with the potential of a slightly increased risk of cancer over the course of a lifetime. This risk increases with the radiation dose; however, this needs to be compared with the natural risk of cancer. According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR, 2017), the average natural risk of childhood cancer is approximately 1 in 500 (0.2%) so the risk of childhood cancer from an X-ray is much lower (0.1% to less than 0.0001%).

Could I have another test instead of an X-ray?

You might be able to have an ultrasound examination instead of an X-ray. No harm to an unborn baby has ever been reported from the use of ultrasound. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is also safe to use in pregnancy, after the first trimester (12 weeks).

Either of these tests can sometimes be used instead of an X-ray. Although ultrasound and MRI are used if possible, sometimes an X-ray is the best choice or only choice for your particular medical problem or injury.

If found out that I am pregnant after I had an X-ray. What should I do now?

You do not need to do anything. The risk to your baby from radiation is considered so small that most doctors would treat your pregnancy just like any other pregnancy. If you are really worried about your baby’s risk, a Medical Physicist can estimate how much radiation your baby has been exposed to.

I still have questions; who can I ask?

Medical information can be complex, and you may receive information that you do not fully understand. Please feel free to talk to your referring doctor or the radiographer performing the X-ray about any questions or concerns that you have. You can take this information sheet with you.

Mar 2023