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Chemo, Radiotherapy During Pregnancy Do not Affect Babies’ Development

Update Date: Sep 27, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

Based on the conclusions from several international studies, receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment during pregnancy is safe for the fetus. The researchers found that neither treatment affected the children's mental or cardiac development.

"When chemotherapy is administered after the first trimester of pregnancy, we cannot discern any problems in the children," stated lead author Dr. Frederic Amant, KU Leuven and University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium reported in the press release. "Fear about the risks of chemotherapy administration should not be a reason to terminate a pregnancy, delay cancer treatment for the mother, or to deliver a baby prematurely."

In one of the studies, the researchers compared the mental and cardiac health of 38 children who were exposed to chemotherapy in utero to 38 control children who were never exposed to the cancer treatment. The children in the first group were taken from the International Network for Cancer, Infertility and Pregnancy (INCIP) registry.

The researchers found that at the median age of two, both groups of children had normal mental development based on the Mental Development Index measurement. The children all had normal heart dimensions and functions as well.

"This paper points to the very important issue of long-term safety of prenatal exposure to chemotherapy and reinforces the notion that chemotherapy during gestation does not endanger the fetus and her or his subsequent development. To further ameliorate neonatal outcome, a special effort should be made to prolong pregnancy duration, and stringent long-term follow-up should be pursued to confirm these findings. Meanwhile, specific measures to support prematurely delivered babies and their families should be implemented," Dr. Fedro Alessandro Peccatori, Director of the Fertility & Procreation Unit at the European Institute of Oncology's Division of Gynaecologic Oncology, commented. He was not a part of the study.

In another study, the same research team recruited 16 children and 10 adults who were all exposed to radiotherapy in the womb. The researchers examined their neuropsychological, behavioral and general health results and discovered that all but one had normal development. The one child suffered from severe cognitive delay but the researchers reported confounding factors at play.

"It's a good feeling to know that research data can be implemented immediately into the clinic. Our data will inform physicians and patients and help them to take decisions in a difficult situation," Amant said.

The studies' results were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2014 meeting in Madrid, Spain.

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