Using chemotherapy during pregnancy for the treatment of cancer comes with great concern for the health of the fetus. Researchers have recently completed a study involving a small number of children born after in-utero exposure to chemotherapy. The children did not show any mental or cardiac delays in development associated directly with the chemotherapy, but it did play a role in the length of pregnancy, which did affect development.

According to researchers in the study, chemotherapy does not appear to inhibit mental and cardiac development, but children born to women receiving chemotherapy were more like to be born pre-term, which did have a significant effect on development. So, while chemotherapy did not directly affect the development of the fetus in-utero, it did affect gestation and, eventually, development.

While the study group was small, just 70 children born to 68 mothers, the study ranged 18 years in some cases. Children were evaluated at birth and 18 months. The children who stayed in the study were evaluated several more times between the ages of 5 and 18. In addition to evaluating children in the study, researchers collected information on the course of treatment mothers received for various forms of cancer. The most common form of cancer treated in the study was breast cancer.

The gestational age of the infants at birth was just more than 35 weeks. Sixteen children were born between 28 and 34 weeks with the remaining children being born 35 weeks or later gestational age. None of the children suffered cardiac developmental issues. Four of the children in the study were born as two sets of twins. One set of twins experienced extreme developmental delay despite being born at nearly 33 weeks gestation. Researchers noted chemotherapy could have had an impact on development in this case.

While the study opens the door for additional research in the area, the participant group was far too small to have a major impact in the medical community. Large-scale, long-term studies on the developmental impact of chemotherapy on the fetus need to be completed before the study results are widely accepted.

Source: The European Cancer Organisation. September 2011.