Chemotherapy is safe during pregnancy, researchers say

New research presented this week at the ESMO 2014 Congress in Madrid has shown that chemotherapy is safe during pregnancy (and that radiation therapy only carries a low risk).

Dr Frederic Amant from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium said that as long as chemo was given after the first trimester, there were no negative impacts on babies’ development. ‘Fear about the risks of chemotherapy administration should not be a reason to terminate a pregnancy, delay cancer treatment for the mother, or to deliver a baby prematurely,’ he said.

Until recently, fear of harming the foetus has prevented some doctors from treating pregnant women who have cancer, increasing the risk that the disease will be terminal. So Amant and his team undertook research to find out whether it’s safe.

In their first study, they examined 38 children who had been exposed to chemotherapy in the womb, evaluating their mental development and cardiac health compared with 38 children who had not been exposed to chemotherapy. At two years old, both groups of children had mental development in the normal range and heart size and function was also normal.

In their second study, Amant and his colleagues assessed 16 children and 10 adults whose mothers had radiotherapy while pregnant with them. All of their results were in the normal range, apart from one child who had a severe cognitive delay, but this was not necessarily linked to the radiation.

Doctors will still need to exercise caution and make treatment as safe and as specifically-targeted as possible for pregnant women, but Amant says on the whole they can proceed safely. In future, he hopes to continue to monitor the wellbeing of people who experienced chemo in utero, and to explore whether particular drugs lower the risk even further.

Image via Big D2112’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley