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Warning over 'souvenir' foetal scan images

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The Health Protection Agency has said there is no danger to unborn babies from ultrasound scans used for diagnostic purposes, but warned parents to consider whether they want to have extra ultrasound scans to receive pictures as mementoes.

The Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation, which advises the HPA on ultrasound issues, has reviewed the latest scientific evidence and concluded that more research into the long-term effects of ultrasound on unborn children should be carried out, although there is no danger from diagnostic scans.

The advisory group said the available evidence did not suggest that diagnostic ultrasound affected mortality of babies during pregnancy or soon after birth, or suggest any effect on childhood cancer risk. There were, however, been some unconfirmed reports suggesting possible effects on the developing nervous system.

AGNIR chair Anthony Swerdlow said: “In the light of the widespread use of ultrasound in medical practice, its increasing commercial use for “souvenir” foetal imaging, and the unconfirmed indications of possible neurological effects on the foetus, there is a need for further research on whether there are any long-term adverse effects of diagnostic ultrasound.

Responding to the group’s report, the Health Protection Agency said prospective parents should not hesitate to continue taking advantage of ultrasound scans for diagnostic purposes. But they should consider the uncertainties when deciding whether to have ultrasound scans that do not have a defined diagnostic benefit and provide only keepsake images or “real time” scans. 

“There are some uncertainties that need to be clarified through additional research,” said Justin McCracken, chief executive officer of the HPA. “Overall, there is a track record of safety with diagnostic use of ultrasound, so people should continue using ultrasound for medical purposes.”

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