Pregnant women who are diagnosed with cancer are acutely concerned about the potential for harm to the developing fetus, but recent studies presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology 2014 Congress indicate that chemotherapy and radiotherapy do not have long-term effects on children’s mental or cardiac development.

“When chemotherapy is administered after the first trimester of pregnancy, we cannot discern any problems in the children,” said lead author Frederic Amant, MD, PhD, of KU Leuven and University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium. “Fear about the risks of chemotherapy administration should not be a reason to terminate a pregnancy, delay cancer treatment for the mother, or to deliver a baby prematurely.”

Dr. Amant’s team conducted three studies designed to investigate the effects on children of cancer treatment administered to pregnant women and the frequency of pregnancy among women with cancer.

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In the first, 38 children (median age, 20.5 months) that had been exposed to chemotherapy prenatally and 38 matching controls that had not been exposed underwent neurological examination and echocardiography. Mental development and cardiac function were within normal ranges in both groups, and did not differ significantly between groups.1

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Commenting on the results, Fedro Alessandro Peccatori, MD, PhD, of the European Institute of Oncology, who was not involved in the study, noted that “this paper points to the very important issue of long-term safety of prenatal exposure to chemotherapy and reinforces the notion that chemotherapy during gestation does not endanger the fetus and her or his subsequent development.”