Chemo treatment for pregnant women surprisingly good news

Related articles

Pregnant women with cancer may be relieved to know that a new (albeit small) study shows that children exposed to chemotherapy in utero develop just as well as those in the general population. In their study, published in The Lancet Oncology, researchers in Belgium recruited 68 pregnant women who received an average of three to four cycles of chemotherapy, then later assessed various health parameters in their children.

Ranging in age from 1.5 to 18 years old at the time of the assessment, the 70 children were evaluated in terms of behavior, general health, hearing, growth, and heart dimension and function. As it turns out, these children scored no differently than those who were not exposed to chemotherapy. However, although neurocognitive outcomes (including intelligence and sensorimotor skills) were also the same for both groups, the researchers observed that preterm children in the chemotherapy group did have lower cognitive development scores compared to their full-term counterparts. But this finding, says Dr. Ross, demonstrates the possible adverse effects of premature birth, not of in utero chemotherapy exposure.

Based on their study results, the authors made the following recommendation: The decision to administer chemotherapy should follow the same guidelines as in non-pregnant patients ¦ It is possible to administer chemotherapy from 14 weeks gestational age onwards with specific attention to prenatal care.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan finds the news exciting since, as she points out, It was once thought that pregnant women with cancer should either have their pregnancies terminated or wait until after delivery to begin chemotherapy. Studies like this could lead to a more optimistic approach.

The results also got ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross thinking: If these highly toxic chemotherapy drugs, given in high doses, seem to have a negligible effect on growing fetuses," he says, "then how could we possibly expect occasional exposure to trace amounts of, say, BPA or phthalates found in plastics and cosmetics virtually non-toxic compounds to have any impact on the health of babies, despite environmentalists arguments that they do?