Diagnosis of cancer during pregnancy should not delay treatment

Diagnosis of cancer during pregnancy should not delay treatment

Study finds termination of pregnancy or delaying treatments due to cancer in last two trimesters may not be necessary.

A study released on Monday says receiving a diagnosis of cancer while pregnant does not necessarily have to result in delaying treatment or terminating the pregnancy, says an article in the New York Times.

The study examined more than 100 children that had been exposed to cancer treatments during the last two trimesters of their mother’s pregnancy and found they had normal cognitive and cardiac functionality.

Dr. Frédéric Amant, the lead author of the study and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium said, “We didn’t find any difference in cardiac functioning or cognitive function between children exposed to cancer treatment in utero and the control group.  To some extent, it’s surprising because cancer treatment is quite toxic, and we know most chemotherapy drugs cross the placenta.”

Since the risk of causing birth defects is greatest during the first trimester, none of the women involved in the study were exposed to treatment during that time.  The researchers focused on a group of 129 children exposed to chemotherapy in the latter stages of pregnancy, when the brain is developing.

Over half of the mothers in the study were being treated for breast cancer, and another 16 percent were suffering from blood cancers.

Almost two-thirds of the women delivered earlier than 37 weeks, most due to induced labor so that the cancer treatments could continue.  In the general population, only about 8 percent deliver before that time.  The researchers say they hope the results of their study will cause physicians to look closer at the practice of inducing early birth.

The scientists think that the cognitive abilities of the children were more influenced by the premature birth than the chemotherapy.  Each additional week in the womb accounted for two more points on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, a test for measuring cognitive ability, that was administered to the children at 18 months, 3 years or both.

The results of the study were presented at the European Cancer Congress in Vienna, and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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