Health Magazine

Breast Cancer, Pregnancy and Chemotherapy

Posted on the 21 August 2012 by Jean Campbell

chemotherapyA recent article on the outcome of a new research study published in The Lancelot Oncology, took me back to my navigator days, days when I met pregnant women recently diagnosed with breast cancer who needed chemotherapy treatment.

In addition to all the heartache and fears for their own health and survival, these women had the added burden of worrying about their unborn children.

My role was to offer support and referrals to the resources of the American Cancer Society, not to offer advice or assist them in making decisions about their care and what that might mean for their pregnancy.

Most women agonized about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester in order to begin chemotherapy. Those who were in their second trimester wanted to postpone treatment until their children could be safely delivered before starting chemotherapy.

According to a new research study coming out of Europe, getting chemotherapy during pregnancy has no adverse effects on the newborn.

Why the need for this study? Unfortunately 1 in a 1000 women is diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant ( source: American Cancer Society).

Researchers assessed the pregnancy outcomes of 400 European women who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer while they were pregnant. Forty eight percent of these women (48 percent – 197 women) received chemotherapy during pregnancy.

Research results showed that babies born to women who received chemotherapy had no higher risk of birth defects, higher blood pressure disorders or alopecia. The babies did have lower birth weights than babies born to women who did not get chemotherapy.

Almost 50 percent of the deliveries in the study were pre-term, while in the general population, the prevalence of pre-term birth is about 10-15 percent. Also, about 23 percent of the deliveries occurred before the 35th week. Reported complications were mostly due to premature birth and not due to chemotherapy

In a news release, Professor Sibylle Loibl, of the German Breast Group, one of the study  researchers stated,  ”If our findings are confirmed by other studies, breast cancer during pregnancy could be treated as it is in non-pregnant women without putting fetal and maternal outcomes at substantially increased risk. Findings stress the importance of prioritizing a full-term delivery in women who undergo chemotherapy while pregnant,”

Previous studies have shown that breast cancer treatment (for Stage l breast cancer) does not affect pregnancy outcomes and that it is safe for women to undergo chemotherapy even if she’s pregnant.

“Illness and mortality in newborn babies is directly related to gestational age at delivery. This is an important clinical message because the decision to deliver the fetus preterm is often taken without medical indication. Our work suggests that treating patients with breast cancer while pregnant is possible, and there is no need to interrupt the pregnancy or receive inferior therapy,” added Professor Loibl.

Author’s Note: While the results of this research study and additional such studies can offer comfort and reassurance with regard to birth health, it would also be a comfort to see studies exploring the long term physical and intellectual development of babies born to mothers who received chemo while pregnant.

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