Cancer treatment ‘safe for unborn’

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Pregnant women with breast cancer may be able to undergo surgery or chemotherapy and still deliver babies at full-term, according to a new report.

Treating cancer during pregnancy cuts the need to deliver the baby early – a major concern in managing women with the disease, experts said.

Doctors should aim for women to have a normal length pregnancy wherever possible because, in most cases, breast cancer can be treated with surgery or chemotherapy or both, said the report in The Lancet medical journal.

Furthermore, terminating the pregnancy does not appear to improve the chance a woman will survive the disease.

Around one in 1,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with cancer but this could rise as more women postpone pregnancy until they are older.

Between 1991 and 1997 there were 1.3 to 2.4 cases of breast cancer in women per 10,000 live births.

Researchers said chemotherapy could be safely given in the second and third stages of pregnancy and, in general, surgery was safe during any of the three trimesters.

In most cases, radiotherapy only became necessary after the woman had given birth, but should not be used as a reason to deliver the baby early.

A second study said children exposed to chemotherapy in the womb developed just as well as children who were born to healthy women.

Frederic Amant, from the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Centre at the Leuven Cancer Institute in Belgium, who worked on the study said breast cancer in pregnancy “remains challenging” because in some cases advanced cancer can lead to death of mother and baby.

“Importantly, the new insights we gained during our research facilitate cancer treatment and provide hope for mother and child in most cases,” he said.

“Most mothers feel stronger and are even more motivated to undergo the cancer treatment and its side effects, since she is fighting for her child as well.”