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Pregnant Cancer Patients Shouldn’t Delay Treatment, Speed Birth

Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Pregnant women who are diagnosed with breast cancer shouldn’t delay treatment or hasten delivery to avoid exposing the baby to chemotherapy, doctors said.

A registry of 313 pregnant breast cancer patients found the greatest risk to the infants was premature birth, according to a study presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. About twice as many women who didn’t get chemotherapy had early deliveries, 33 percent versus 17 percent, probably to allow them to start treatment sooner, the researchers said.

Pregnancy in those with breast cancer is relatively rare, affecting about 2 percent to 3 percent of patients, said Sibylle Loibl, the lead author of the paper from the German Breast Group. As women delay pregnancy until later in life, however, the number may be on the rise, she said.

“The study demonstrates that it is possible to treat pregnant breast cancer patients close to the standard of care for nonpregnant patients,” Loibl said in an e-mail response to questions. Women who are pregnant should continue their pregnancies and start treatment normally, she said.

There were 142 newborns exposed to chemotherapy in the database. Among them, there were four infections, four birth defects, two cases of anemia, one case of jaundice and one child born small for gestational age. Among children born to women who didn’t get chemotherapy, there was one case of a birth defect, one temporary apnea, one with low blood sugar, one case of jaundice.

The two groups weren’t directly comparable because the patients had different types of breast cancer at different stages and received a variety of treatments, the researchers said. Still, the results for the newborns weren’t significantly different after one month or five years, though Loibl said they are still monitoring the children.

The information from the German database is reassuring, said Gretchen Kimmick, an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina.

“It reconfirms that we can safely use chemotherapy to treat breast cancer during pregnancy, with minimal adverse effects on the baby,” she said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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