Babies of breast cancer patients exposed to chemotherapy in the womb are at no higher risk of health complications, according to the most conclusive research yet.
Many patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer whilst pregnant may either chose not to have the chemotherapy, or the baby may be delivered early to allow treatment to go ahead.
But a new study of more than 400 women across Europe diagnosed with early stage breast cancer suggests that women could undergo treatment and have a full-term delivery without harm to the baby.
Writing in the Lancet Oncology, researchers found that whilst infants exposed to the drug had on average a lower birth rate, they were at no higher risk of birth defects, did not have lower Apgar scores and were at no higher risk of blood disorders or alopecia.
In addition, the number of chemotherapy cycles received during pregnancy did not appear to affect the babies’ birth weight, leading researchers to believe that the lower birth weights may not be clinically meaningful.
Study leader, Professor Sibylle Loibl, of the German Breast Group, said:
“If our findings are confirmed by other studies, breast cancer during pregnancy could be treated as it is in non-pregnant women without putting foetal and maternal outcomes at substantially increased risk."
“In the general population, about 10–15% of infants are born preterm, but in our study, 50% of women with breast cancer delivered preterm, with 23% delivering before the 35th week of gestation.”
Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the research was the most conclusive yet that chemotherapy may be safe during pregnancy.
Other experts say that further research will be needed before a firm conclusion can be reached.
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