10/02/2012 08:04 GMT

Chemotherapy For Pregnant Women With Breast Cancer May Not Harm The Baby

Pregnant women with breast cancer may soon be able to undergo chemotherapy and still have a healthy, full-term pregnancy, a report has revealed.

Scientists from the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Centre at the Leuven Cancer Institute in Belgium claim that women suffering from cancer should be able to have chemotherapy and surgery without having to deliver their baby early – which is a major concern in managing women with cancer.

Researchers argued that chemotherapy could be safely done during the second and third trimester of the pregnancy, with surgery being deemed safe throughout the whole pregnancy.

The experts also added that there is no evidence that babies exposed to chemotherapy in the womb develop any differently than babies born to healthy women.

The study, published in The Lancet Oncology, say that because breast cancer is generally diagnosed later in pregnant women (due to natural hormonal changes to the breasts) this obscures the symptoms.

Therefore, this is why it's vital that pregnant women are viable for effective cancer treatment, say researchers.

When it comes to radiotherapy, if it is necessary, researchers say that this can be done once the woman has given birth and should not be used as a reason to induce labour and deliver the baby early.

Dr. Frederic Amant from he study, argued that breast cancer in pregnancy "remains challenging" because in some cases, advanced cancer can lead to the death of both mother and child.

"In other situations we were able to save the child though we lost the mother immediately after the delivery, for example by keeping her alive with a terminal brain tumour," Dr Amant told the Press Association.

"Sometimes the woman's partner declares that they feel unable to raise the child in case the mother would not survive her cancer and termination of pregnancy is opted for. Importantly, the new insights we gained during our research facilitate cancer treatment and provide hope for mother and child in most cases."

Dr Amant added that it’s always the mothers who feel most strongly about this issue. "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."

Kim Hardwick, senior cancer information nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, added to this, telling the Press Association:

"Cancer during pregnancy is thankfully a rare occurrence. But pregnant women with cancer can be successfully treated with chemotherapy.

"We welcome good-quality research which informs people with cancer about the risks and benefits of the decisions they need to make."

In the UK, current guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) agree that breast cancer itself does not worsen the prognosis for women diagnosed in pregnancy.

The guidelines also state that surgery, including mastectomy, could be done during all stages of the pregnancy. However, it is recommended that chemotherapy should be avoided during the first trimester as it can increase miscarriage risks.

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