Chemotherapy during pregnancy is safe and does not raise any health complications for newborns, according to a study.
The researchers behind the study analysed data from more than 400 women across Europe, who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer while pregnant.
Among the 400 women, 197 (48%) underwent chemotherapy during pregnancy.
The study found that infants whose mothers underwent chemotherapy while pregnant had, on average, a lower birth weight than those whose mothers had not received the treatment. However there were few other discernible differences between the groups.
Furthermore, the researchers found that chemotherapy does not increase a baby's risk of birth defects, blood defects or alopecia. The Apgar score, which assess the physical condition of a newborn infant, varied little between the chemotherapy and non-chemotherapy groups.
"If our findings are confirmed by other studies, breast cancer during pregnancy could be treated as it is in non-pregnant women, without putting foetal and maternal outcomes at substantially increased risk," said Professor Sibylle Loibl, researcher at the German Breast Group.
The study also claims that the number of chemotherapy cycles received during pregnancy does not appear to affect the baby's birth weight.
"In the general population, about 10-15% of infants are born preterm, but in our study, 50% of women with breast cancer delivered preterm, with 23% delivering before the 35th week of gestation. More complications were reported in the group of infants exposed to chemotherapy than in the group not exposed to chemotherapy. However, most complications were reported in babies who were delivered prematurely, irrespective of exposure to chemotherapy," said Loibl.
He said the findings emphasise the importance of a full-timedelivery to women who undergo chemotherapy while pregnant. Illness and mortality in newborn babies are directly related to the mother's gestational age at the time of birth.
This, he said, is an important clinical message because the decision to deliver the foetus preterm is often taken without medical indication. "Our work suggests that treating patients with breast cancer while pregnant is possible, and there is no need to interrupt the pregnancy or receive inferior therapy."