Chemotherapy and pregnancy

When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, typically speed will dictate the development and implementation of a treatment plan, which obviously has to be done as soon as possible after diagnosis. When that woman is expecting a child, the treatment that can save the life of the woman can also cause some concern for the health and safety for the child that is growing inside her.

The decision to delay chemotherapy until after delivery is not always an option, depending on the stage and type of cancer that is diagnosed. Many women who have denied treatment for their cancer and opted to continue the pregnancy have died while still pregnant with the child unable to sustain life outside of the womb. There have been cases of women who have successfully undergone chemotherapy while in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancy; chemotherapy and pregnancy can be accomplished, but there are risks for the child in many cases.

Doctors will often suggest that chemotherapy be delayed until after the first trimester of pregnancy to minimize the effects on the fetus because there is an increased risk of major malformations when chemotherapy is given during the first trimester. During the second and third trimester the risk of malformation is lower, but there is an increased chance of a low birth weight baby. The baby’s brain is forming and growing throughout the pregnancy and this will mean that there is a risk of damage to it being caused by chemotherapy during pregnancy.

Many doctors will recommend termination of the pregnancy to avoid damage to the fetus, but today, as we have mentioned, there is increasing evidence that chemotherapy and pregnancy can coexist. In one study, the children born from mothers who received chemotherapy during pregnancy found no ill effects resulting from the treatment. In these cases, chemotherapy and pregnancy eliminated the cancer from the mother and caused no damage to the child.

There are some chemotherapy drugs that have been thought to be safer for pregnant women than others. Methotrexate is considered to be the riskiest chemotherapy drug for pregnant women and has been known to cause birth defects and miscarriage in pregnant women.

Fluorouracil has created some controversy when chemotherapy and pregnancy are considered. Some studies have found that it causes no problems in the development of the fetus when it is administered in the second and third trimester, while one study has found that it can be as harmful as methotrexate. Discuss the use of this chemotherapy drug with your doctor and find out if there are alternatives. Because of the controversy, there is certainly a risk involved in using this drug during pregnancy.

Vinblastine drugs are considered to be the safest chemotherapy drugs to use during pregnancy. Doxorubicin is also considered a safe chemotherapy and pregnancy drug. In fact, these drugs are considered to be safe during the second and third trimester and others have suggested that they may be safe during the first trimester as well.

Cyclophosphamide is a chemotherapy drug that is risky to use in the first trimester of pregnancy, but it is considered to be safer for use in the second and third trimester.

One of the considerations that must be made when making the decision about chemotherapy and pregnancy is the effect that chemo can have on the immune system. Because of this lower immunity and white blood cell count, many doctors will recommend that chemotherapy stop at least a month before delivery.

Being diagnosed with cancer while you are pregnant is devastating. Many women choose to terminate the pregnancy because of the harm that could be caused by the cancer treatment and the problem of delaying treatment until it is safe for the fetus. With breast cancer, for instance, delaying treatment increases the possibility of the cancer spreading to other areas of the body by as much as five to ten percent.

Last updated on Sep 16th, 2009 and filed under Women's Health. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses for “Chemotherapy and pregnancy”

  1. I’m a mother myself and can completley relate to this blogger and post. When I was pregnant, I had was really scared and just didn’t know what to do at times. If you were like me, try out this ebook Pregnancy Fear, trust me, you won’t be dissapointed. I know the author personally and shes a great writer and mentor. Give her a try!

  2. Erique Zapata Jr says:

    My mother was misdiagnosed with Uterine Myoma when she was pregnant. She was taking chemotherapeutic drugs for a few months then she seek for a second opinion and found out that it wasn’t a tumor, she was pregnant. My mother was devastated and was considering abortion because she knew that those drugs were toxic to the fetus. Medicine weren’t this advance back then (1985) and so as our country. Ultrasound isn’t that much available (or isn’t available at all).

    She took chances and chose not to abort the pregnancy although she knew that it could end up extremely bad for the child (if ever the child make it out alive in the first place).

    Yet, here I am. No deformities and malformations. Alive and kicking for 25 years. :’)

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