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Breast Cancer in Pregnancy: Chemo OK

Researchers Say Aggressive Treatment Is Safe for the Babies of Pregnant Women
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 18, 2008 -- Facing a diagnosis of breast cancer is challenging enough, but facing breast cancer during pregnancy can be nothing short of devastating.

Can I have chemotherapy? Will the treatment hurt my baby? New research helps to answer these questions, and the findings should serve to reassure patients and their doctors.

In a German study examining outcomes among 122 pregnant breast cancer patients, researchers concluded that pregnant patients can often be treated as aggressively as non-pregnant patients, with little evidence of ill effects to their babies.

The findings were presented this week at the 6th European Breast Cancer Conference in Berlin.

Sibylle Loibl, MD, of the University of Frankfurt, tells WebMD that it is now clear that most pregnant breast cancer patients do have options.

"The evidence now shows that women who are pregnant are often good candidates for standard breast cancer treatments," she says.

Breast Cancer and Pregnancy

The patients in the study were enrolled in a registry of women diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant.

All were diagnosed between April 2003 and December 2007. Their average age at diagnosis was 33 and the average gestational age of their babies was 21 weeks.

While a few women terminated their pregnancies, most did not, Loibl says. A total of 33% had surgery alone, 43% had surgery and chemotherapy, 5.4% had chemotherapy alone, and 2.7% had no treatment.

The health problems reported among the babies during their first month of life were generally minor and outcomes among babies born to mothers who had chemotherapy were similar to those of babies born to mothers who did not.

Loibl adds that some of the children in the registry have now been followed for five years, with little evidence of developmental delays or learning issues.

Chemotherapy During Pregnancy

Much of the pioneering research on breast cancer treatment during pregnancy has been done over the past two decades at Houston's University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

M.D. Anderson clinicians were among the first to treat pregnant women with standard chemotherapy protocols. Some of the children born to these women are now in their late teens, and oncologist Jennifer Litton, MD, tells WebMD they are doing quite well.

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