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In-womb exposure to chemotherapy appears safe for babies

In the most recent issue of Stanford Medicine, my colleague tells the story of Minnie Narth, a young woman who learned she had an aggressive form of lymphoma while she was pregnant. As detailed in the piece, there was surprise when Narth and her husband were presented with treatment options:

"Our concern was - give chemo while she's pregnant?" says [her husband] Paul. The response he remembers from Stanford lymphoma specialist Ranjana Advani, MD, was, "Of course we can!"

The surprise is understandable, says Richard Theriault, MD, a breast oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who has studied cancer and pregnancy for 20 years... "We basically tell [expectant mothers], don't breathe, don't do any of these things -- but we're going to give you chemo," Theriault says. "It does sound really crazy, doesn't it?"

The article goes on to describe the treatment decisions Narth and her doctors made, and the existing research on cancer and pregnancy - and I thought of it when I came across results of a new study on chemotherapy during pregnancy today. In a paper in The Lancet, researchers showed that children exposed to chemotherapy in the womb appear to develop normally. As WebMD reports:

Children in the study whose mothers had an average of three to four cycles of chemotherapy during [the second or third trimester of] pregnancy were subjected to a battery of tests to assess their general health, intelligence, and behavioral development.

The tests suggested that fetal exposure to chemotherapy after the first trimester is not associated with developmental and health issues.


"The clinical message is threefold," [Frederic Amant, MD, PhD, of Belgium's Leuven Cancer Institute] says. "First, fear of chemotherapy is generally no reason to terminate a pregnancy. Second, fear of chemotherapy is generally no reason to delay treatment when pregnant. And third, delivery should not be rushed to avoid exposing the fetus to chemotherapy."

Previously: A family’s grace in crisis


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