Higher radiation doses prescribed for cancers and brain tumors have long been linked to female infertility, but, now, says Reuters, an emerging study reveals that female fertility is affected at even moderate and lower radiation doses.
It seems, explained Dr. Daniel Green, a cancer specialist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, that radiation destroys brain cells that control how eggs are produced in the ovaries, wrote Reuters. “It was not known that more modest doses can possibly have an effect on fertility,” Dr. Green, a co-author on the study, told Reuters Health.
The girls studied had some type of cancer, with six of the 10 diagnosed with leukemia or a brain tumor and the other girls diagnosed with lymph node, bone, or muscle cancers, said Reuters, which noted that none of the girls received radiation to their ovaries, which would have likely affected their fertility.
The team sought to understand radiation infertility in cases in which the girls receive radiation to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, which are next to the brain, said Reuters. The white blood cell cancer, leukemia, can receive treatment in this way if cancer is found in the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain, noted Reuters.
“For brain tumors, radiation has always been part of the treatment,” said Dr. Jason Fangusaro, a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, quoted Reuters, which noted that doctors do tend to treat cancer today using less chemotherapy. Dr. Fangusaro, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health that this sort of radiation is also being used less in leukemia treatment than in the past.
Despite the change in treatment trends, said Dr. Green, “many women who were treated for this 10 or 15 years ago” who could be at risk for infertility issues, and physicians are not clear about the impact, quoted Reuters.
The study involved sending questionnaires to about 3,600 women diagnosed with cancer when they were girls between 1970 and 1986, and to about 2,100 of the patients’ sisters. The questionnaires asked how many pregnancies the women had, said Reuters. The study revealed that about three of out of 10 former cancer patients was pregnant at least once; about five of 10 their sisters, not diagnosed with cancer, was pregnant at least once, according to the report published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility. The study did not look at pregnancy attempts.
Those women exposed to at least 22 units of radiation had significantly decreased odds of become pregnant, with about one-third less pregnancies versus participants never treated with radiation, said Reuters. The dose of radiation used “Grays” is about 200,000 times greater than the radiation emitted in a typical X-ray, noted Reuters.
We’ve long been writing about links between medical procedures involving radiation, especially CT scan radiation, with various adverse health events; these procedures received the highest doses of radiation. Also, the amount of radiation Americans receive as a result of CT scans and other medical imaging has grown six-fold over the last couple of decades. Today, one CT chest scan carries as much radiation as nearly 400 chest X-rays, according to government officials.