Women Who Received Chemotherapy Before Pregnancy Not at Higher Risk of Stillbirth, Study Finds

When a young person gets cancer and undergoes chemotherapy, there is often concern about their ability to have children in the future. A recent study found that fertility preservation doesn’t impact recurrence risk, and there’s even more good news, according to new research.

Researchers from UTHealth Houston recently analyzed the stillbirth prevalence among cancer survivors who had been diagnosed and undergone chemotherapy as a teen or young adult. Fertility is a concern, as some treatments can damage eggs, and the team says prior research has indicated that the health of future children could be affected. This new study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, shows that there’s little difference in stillbirth risk compared to the general population. This was particularly encouraging for one of the authors, who has personal experience in this area.


Dr. Andrea Betts, co-author from the UTHealth School of Public Health, says, “When I was pregnant with my first child, there was very little information about how my past treatment for cancer could affect my child. All my OB could tell me was, ‘It’s plausible there are increased risks.’ It’s so rewarding to begin to close this gap in the evidence, and provide some good news to the many young women seeking to have children after cancer.”

To investigate the stillbirth risk, the team used data from the Texas Cancer Registry, linking population-based data with live birth and fetal death certificates. Overall, the study included 11,696 deliveries to 8,402 women between the ages of 15 and 39 who had been diagnosed with cancer between 1995 and 2015. Comparing the stillbirth prevalence for this group with the general population, the team found that the rate was about the same: less than 1%. The researchers say this provides insight into an area that hasn’t been extensively studied.


Dr. Caitlin Murphy, lead author and associate professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health, explains, “There are very few studies of birth outcomes among adolescent and young adult women with cancer who later get pregnant. This study revealed that cancer and chemotherapy do not appear to increase the risk of stillbirth, providing critically important information for women who are worried about their ability to deliver a healthy child after cancer.”

Past research by Vanderbilt, however, indicates that young women who had undergone radiation targeting their uterus or ovaries when they were children do face an increased risk of stillbirth.

The American Cancer Society says doctors may encourage cancer patients to wait a certain amount of time before trying to get pregnant. That could be up to six months after chemotherapy to give damaged eggs time to leave the body, or two to five years because the cancer may be more likely to come back in the early years following treatment.

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