Chemotherapy during pregnancy does not necessarily harm the unborn child, according to a ground-breaking new report.
The study, published in the Lancet Oncology journal, shows that children born to women undergoing cancer drug treatment show normal results in physical and mental development tests.
It is well established that giving chemotherapy in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are still forming, raises the chance of birth defects.
But whilst doctors are willing to prescribe chemotherapy after the first trimester to prevent the cancer spreading, there were worries that chemotherapy damages the child’s heart and brain.
Researchers studied 68 pregnancies, producing 70 children, during which 236 cycles of chemotherapy were administered- on average 3 or 4 per pregnancy.
The children were born at an average of 36 weeks into pregnancy, with more than two thirds of the women giving birth at less than 37 weeks.
Researchers then assessed the children every few years from the ages of 18 months to 18 years old, using various physical and mental developmental tests.
They found that although neurocognitive outcomes were within normal ranges, cognitive development scores were lower for children who were born prematurely. However, they emphasised that this difference was found in any group of children born prematurely, not just those in this study.
Otherwise, the children’s behaviour, general health, hearing, growth, heart dimensions and functions corresponded with those of the general population.
The authors concluded: "We show that children who were prenatally exposed to chemotherapy do as well as other children."
"The decision to administer chemotherapy should follow the same guidelines as in non-pregnant patients. In practice, it is possible to administer chemotherapy from 14 weeks gestational age onwards with specific attention to prenatal care."
However, follow-up care is needed to make sure the children are not pre-disposed to conditions as adults.
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