Women who are given chemotherapy during pregnancy do not run a risk of harming their baby, doctors reported in The Lancet Oncology on Friday. European cancer specialists looked at 68 pregnancies, producing 70 children, during which 236 cycles of cancer drugs were administered. On average, the women were 18 weeks pregnant when their cancer was diagnosed. The children were born at 36 weeks on average.
The investigators assessed the children at birth, at the age of 18 months, and at either five, eight, nine, 11, 14 or 18 years. They examined the children for general health, damage to the central nervous system, heart and hearing problems, and tested their cognitive skills. They found no evidence that the children were harmed by the cancer treatment, said the study. Babies born prematurely tended to do less well in cognitive tests, but this is common among pre-term infants across the general population, it noted. “We show that children who were pre-natally exposed to chemotherapy do as well as other children,” the paper concluded. Doctors should not be fearful about administering cancer drugs to pregnant women, nor should they be tempted into inducing early birth in the belief that this will protect the baby, it said. “In practice, it is possible to administer chemotherapy from 14 weeks gestational age onwards,” said the paper. “To allow the bone marrow to recover and to minimise the risk of maternal and foetal sepsis and haemorrhage, delivery should be planned at least three weeks after the last cycle of chemotherapy, and chemotherapy should not be given after 35 weeks since spontaneous labour becomes more probable.”
The study added a small note of caution, saying further work is needed to assess whether chemo causes any long-term problems. The research was led by Frederic Amant of Leuven Catholic University’s Cancer Institute.