Cancer treatment during pregnancy does not harm child, new study shows

Posted at 10:28 PM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-29 00:28:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Imagine having to choose between your life and the life of your unborn child.

It's a decision women battling cancer and carrying a child often have to make, but a new study could change their outlook and prognosis.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found pregnant cancer patients can receive treatment without harming a child's long-term development.

“I think it’s reassuring," said Dr. John Sweetenham, Executive Medical Director of the Huntsman Cancer Center.

The study examined 128 children whose mothers were exposed to chemotherapy, radiation or surgery during their second or third trimester of pregnancy. In their conclusion, the authors wrote, “Prenatal exposure to maternal cancer with or without treatment did not impair the cognitive, cardiac, or general development of children in early childhood."

According to Sweetenham, the medical community has always been aware of the high risks associated with a woman receiving treatments during the first trimester of pregnancy. That is why pregnancies are often terminated in those cases.

However, it has only been in the last 10-15 years that there has been consensus about the safety of treatments later in the pregnancy. That said, they have never analyzed a child's health years after birth.

“What’s been unclear is what happens in the long term, in other words, if we follow these children out for several years, are they doing as well as we’d expected?” Sweetenham explained.

Some parents contend they are.

"This is an option that they can choose their child and also choose themselves," said mother, Candace Lierd.

Inside her home in Lehi, Lierd no longer worries about her two sons the way she did when they were born.

While carrying her eldest 8 years ago, she learned she had Stage 2 ovarian cancer.

"What do we do at 7 months pregnant with a positive screening for cancer?" asked Lierd.

She decided to receive oral chemotherapy treatments towards the end of the pregnancy. After the birth, a nurse visited the home to follow her son's health and check for side effects of the drugs. Fortunately, there were none.

But years later, a second pregnancy came with a second diagnosis. This time it was cervical cancer.

"I didn't know if we were actually going to have a baby at the end of it, or if it was just going to be more pain," Lierd said.

Today, her 2-year-old is healthy and happy.

"Being able to fight a cancer that gives us a bleak future if we don't fight it, it gives us the opportunity to have a future," Lierd said. "And to see a future with our kids, and to be there for them just as much as we want them there."

To view the study please click here: