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Pregnancy and Chemo a Risky Combo

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In general, Gosden says, it's best that egg retrieval be carried out before most types of chemotherapy are begun. Although it is usually possible, there are certain types of leukemias that require starting treatment immediately, which could make it difficult for women to have the embryo-removing procedure done in time. Not wanting to delay starting chemotherapy has been a main reason doctors have performed egg retrieval and IVF with embryo freezing after chemotherapy has begun.

Gosden also says scientists have assumed that the children produced so far from embryos created by IVF prior to their mother's cancer treatment are healthy. But he says more research is needed to follow these children throughout their lives to make sure they don't develop health problems later in life. The same goes for women who have had natural pregnancies years after cancer treatment.

"Perhaps we need to do further checks to make sure our sense of complacency is well justified," says Gosden, of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.

The researchers also warn against becoming pregnant too quickly after being treated for cancer. In the animal studies, the risk for birth defects decreased as the time since chemotherapy increased.

Women with a diagnosis of cancer who are of childbearing age, those who are expecting to receive chemotherapy for cancer, and those who will be receiving cyclophosphamide for other conditions like lupus should talk with their doctors and/or with an expert in genetics or maternal-fetal medicine. If they do become pregnant, they also should inform their child's pediatrician that they received chemotherapy in the past.

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