Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chemotherapy Declared Safe For Pregnant Women

image credit: Evgeniy Isaev

A recent study conducted by the German Breast Group found that women who underwent chemotherapy to treat early stage breast cancer gave birth to babies who did not appear to show any serious complications due to their mother's treatment.

Of the 400 women participating in the study, 48 percent had chemotherapy and of those, approximately 50 percent delivered babies with lower-than-average birth weights. By comparison, 10-15 percent of all infants born in the general population are premature. However, other than weight, no significant differences were detected in the infants born to women being treated vs. those who were not.

Specifically, there was no difference in babies' Apgar scores, no increased risk for blood disorders, no increase of in utero birth defects, and even no increased occurrence of alopecia. Similarly, the number of cycles of chemotherapy seemed to have little effect on a baby's weight leading researchers to conclude that birth weight, in and of itself, is not clinically significant.

While complications were more often seen in the babies born to mothers in the group being treated, complications in general are more likely to appear in babies who are born prematurely regardless of their exposure to chemotherapy.

Further research is needed to assess the long-term effects on these children but the study marks a shift in both attitude and approach that, women diagnosed with breast cancer neither have to automatically terminate their pregnancy nor receive a sub-standard course of treatment.

A quick statistical sidebar:
  • 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime
  • In 2008, the average age for 1st time pregnancies was 25.1yrs. old vs. 21yrs. old in 1970
  • Less than 7% of women under 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer
  • While birth rates in the U.S. have been declining since the 1970's, the one age group that has seen an uptick are women between the ages of 40-44
  • 1 in 1000 pregnant women are also battling breast cancer at the same time

Doctors point out that the increase of breast cancer seen in pregnant women in recent years is largely due to more women choosing to delay pregnancy until later in life.

There seems to be no mention of the ages of the women in study which makes me wonder if there is any significance to how old the mother is when diagnosed.

In my opinion, while the findings give women hope, 1 study of 400 women whose children are still quite young, is not substantial enough upon which to make a definitive claim. The best course of action is to discuss your specific situation and available treatment options with both your breast surgeon and obstetrician.

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