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Study: Chemo During Pregnancy Does Not Harm Unborn

A new study has found that babies born to women with breast cancer who underwent chemotherapy while pregnant do not appear to experience any adverse effects as a result of the cancer drugs.

Medical News Today is reporting that the study, published online in The Lancet Oncology, was based on a study of over 400 European women who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer during pregnancy. Almost half (197) of the women underwent chemotherapy during their pregnancy. Researchers evaluated their newborns and found that they were at no greater risk to suffer birth defects or other adverse effects than those whose mothers did not receive chemotherapy while pregnant.

"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," said Professor Sibylle Loibl, of the German Breast Group, which directed the research.

Instead, Loibl's team found that the greater risk was in deciding to deliver the baby early in order to begin chemo on the mother.

"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. More complications were reported in the group of infants exposed to chemotherapy than in the group not exposed to chemotherapy. However, most complications were reported in babies who were delivered prematurely, irrespective of exposure to chemotherapy," Loibl wrote.

"Our findings emphasize the importance of prioritizing a full-term delivery in women who undergo chemotherapy while 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 foetus 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."

While the findings are encouraging, experts say more research is needed to determine the long-term impact on children whose mothers received chemotherapy during pregnancy.

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