Mothers who have undergone treatment for cancer during pregnancy do not put their babies at risk for developmental disorders, says a new study.
A team of researchers at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium conducted the study on 129 children whose mothers have undergone some kind of cancer treatment during pregnancy. Ninety-six of the children were exposed to chemotherapy, 11 were exposed to radiotherapy, 13 were exposed to surgery, two were exposed to drug treatments and 14 had mothers who did not undergo treatment while pregnant.
"Babies who were exposed to moms with cancer with or without treatment did not have impaired cardiac, cognitive or general development in early childhood," said the study authors.
All of them underwent treatment during the last two trimesters of pregnancy. Researchers looked at the growth of babies over a year after their birth. But there was a higher prevalence of preterm births in these mothers. More than 60% of children of mothers with cancer were born earlier than 37 weeks, compared with roughly 8% in the general population.
Professor Frédéric Amant, presenting his results at the European Cancer Congress in Vienna, said, "Our results show that fear of cancer treatment is no reason to terminate a pregnancy, that maternal treatment should not be delayed and that chemotherapy can be given. The study also shows that children suffer more from prematurity than from chemotherapy, so avoiding prematurity is more important than avoiding chemotherapy."
The limitation of the study was that it did not include all chemotherapy drugs and also did not look at long-term risks. Still, the researchers say their data suggests that being diagnosed with cancer does not necessarily mean a woman needs to terminate her pregnancy.
Peter Naredi, president of the European Society of Surgical Oncology, said, "The findings should be reassuring for pregnant cancer patients.The important message at this stage seems to be that doctors should not only start cancer treatment immediately, but should also try to maintain the pregnancy to as near full term as possible."
"Although caution is always indicated, treatment of the maternal cancer in the second trimester or later may not be harmful to the fetus," concluded the authors.