Pregnancy screening practices and treatment of pregnant patients among radiation oncologists: results of an international survey

13 Jan 2021
Peter Zaki, Junjia Zhu, Heath B Mackley, Jennifer C Rosenberg

Background: The human embryo or foetus is susceptible to harmful effects of radiation, which include growth delay, malformations, impaired cognitive function, cancer and foetal demise. The purpose of this study is to describe pregnancy screening practices in radiation oncology, so that potential health effects may be avoided and areas of prevention may be identified.

Methods: An electronic survey was delivered to 6,304 members of the American Society for Radiation Oncology. The survey subjects were radiation oncologists who are currently practicing in the world. Chi-square tests and a multiple logistic regression model were used to analyse the data. All tests were two-sided and the statistical significance level used was 0.05. This study (STUDY00009765) was approved by an Institutional Review Board.

Results: A total of 434 responses from practicing radiation oncologists were received. Of these respondents, 69.1% were practicing in the United States. Of all respondents, 19.8% reported treating paediatric patients and 93.6% reported treating premenopausal patients. Despite 84.8% of radiation oncologists saying they would ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ that one should screen for pregnancy prior to radiation therapy, 29.7% of respondents reported their department has no screening policy and 7.1% of respondents reported they do not screen for pregnancy. Having a departmental policy was associated with screening for pregnancy (p-value = 0.0005).

Of all respondents, 93 reported treating a known pregnant patient. Of these 93 respondents, 76 reported intentionally treating and 17 reported accidentally treating a pregnant patient. Respondents who did not screen at time of simulation were significantly more likely to treat a pregnant patient than those who screened at time of simulation (p-value = 0.0459).

Conclusions: Heterogeneity exists among practicing radiation oncologists regarding pregnancy screening. Institutional policies should be clear and consistent. All members of the radiation oncology team should make every effort to minimise unintended radiation exposure to the embryo or foetus.

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