A new study has found that pregnant women who are diagnosed with cancer can have chemotherapy without endangering their unborn child. Researchers say there appears to be no greater risk of birth defects or other health issues.
On Medica says every year, hundreds of pregnant women face a decision about what to do following their diagnosis. Some refuse treatment until after the baby is born while others opt for an abortion, especially if the cancer is aggressive and they are in the early stages of pregnancy.
But now German researchers say there is no need to end the pregnancy, or delay treatment because the fetus will not be affected.
In a study published in The Lancet Oncology, researchers looked at more than 400 European women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer while pregnant, almost half underwent chemotherapy during pregnancy.The researchers then assessed whether the newborn babies of the 197 women had suffered any effects from the cancer drugs.
The study found that there were few noticeable differences between the two groups of newborns. On Medica says babies exposed to chemotherapy in-vitro didn't appear to have any higher risk of birth defects, no lower scores of well-being at birth, no more frequent blood disorders or alopecia (hair loss). Babies whose mothers had undergone chemotherapy, on average, had a lower birth weight, but researchers say that appears to be statistically insignificant.
The Daily Mail quotes lead researcher Professor Sibylle Loibl, of the German Breast Group, saying, "In the general population, about 10-15 per cent of infants are born preterm, but in our study, 50 per cent of the women with breast cancer delivered preterm, with 23 per cent delivering before the 35th week." She says while more complications were reported in the group of infants exposed to chemotherapy, most were reported in babies who were born prematurely. "Our findings emphasise the importance of prioritising a full-term delivery in women who undergo chemotherapy while pregnant."
Dr. Loibl adds, "If our findings are confirmed by other studies, breast cancer during pregnancy could be treated as it is in non-pregnant women without putting fetal and maternal outcomes at substantially increased risk."
The Daily Mail says a group of studies published earlier this year concluded that chemotherapy after the first trimester (12 weeks) does not harm the unborn child.
Around one in 2,000 pregnancies is affected by cancer, a rate that is increasing by 2.5 per cent every year as women have children later in life.