Studies show pregnant women can be treated for cancer without harming baby

A collection of studies published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, shows that abortion is not required to treat pregnant women who develop cancer.

As reported in the Telegraph, the collection of research studies published in a special edition of The Lancet medical journal found that chemotherapy treatment after the first trimester does not harm the unborn child. Researchers said the evidence showed that women who developed cancer when pregnant did not need to abort their baby, delay their own treatment or give birth prematurely.

And in a comment article on the findings researchers with the Department of Gynaecologic Surgery, at the French Institute Gustave Roussy, wrote that recommendations to abort could be an ‘unacceptable error’. ‘Treatment of malignancy in pregnancy is still associated with unacceptable errors: eg, the sometimes unjustified termination of pregnancies or the choice of an inadequate strategy for treatment of a tumour with the risk of compromised survival,’ they wrote.

The Telegraph quoted the lead author on two of the studies, Dr Frédéric Amant, at the Leuven Cancer Institute, in Belgium, as saying that: “The patient and her partner should be informed about the different treatment options and the physician should explain that termination of pregnancy does not seem to improve maternal outcome”.

In an interview in the Lancet Dr Amant said that: “Fear of chemotherapy should not be a reason to terminate pregnancy”, adding that “there is no evidence termination improves outcomes for the mother”.

The series of studies – published in The Lancet and Lancet Oncology – showed that children born to women who were given chemotherapy while pregnant developed as well as children in the general population.

In just one study, researchers in Belgium followed 70 such children and found they had normal development, IQ, hearing, heart function and general health.

Babies who were born prematurely had lower IQ scores, which is thought to be connected to the early birth rather than the drugs as this is seen in babies not exposed to chemotherapy, the researchers said. These new studies suggest that early delivery may no longer be necessary, since chemotherapy has been found not to harm the baby.

The Lancet interview also revealed that, for Dr Amant, an early experience of caring for a pregnant woman with cervical cancer was pivotal in shaping the course of his career: “She told me her early diagnosis was thanks to the pregnancy. So she wanted to give her baby the chance he had given her.”

This is what medicine should strive for – treating mother and baby, and doing best for both.


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Cross posted from the Life Institute with additional reporting from ProLife NZ.