New research from the University of North Carolina has concluded that there may be an increased risk for pregnancy complications in women who survived cancer. The researchers found that those survivors had a higher risk for preterm birth, c-section deliveries and low birth weight in newborns.
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The study looked at over 15,000 births to women aged 15-39 and found that the cancer survivors had increased risks compared to non-cancer survivors.
Research author and assistant professor in the School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Hazel Nichols, says that the findings don't necessarily give any causal relationship, but present an opportunity to work on understanding more about why this is an apparent risk to the women, and whether or not their babies go on to develop health issues.
The risks were highest in women who were diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy, and experts do not find this surprising. Dr. Jill Rabin of Women's Health Programs at Northwell Health in New York says that every effort should be made to watch patients who have a history or presently have cancer, watching for signs of premature birth and appropriate fetal growth.
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The research found that certain types of cancer were more associated with preterm birth compared to the preterm birth rates of those without cancer. Gynecological cancer survivors had premature rate risks three times higher than non cancer survivors, and breast cancer survivors had two times higher premature rates. Dr. Nichols found that women who had chemotherapy prior had the highest risk rates.
She also adds that while these survivors are at increased risk, it should be noted that having cancer prior to motherhood did not seem to prevent women from having their children. She notes that there is much women can do to preserve their fertility, and that though these strong women had cancer, they still pursued and attained motherhood, and that is to be celebrated.
"We know that cancer treatment can have an impact on fertility, and it's only after puberty that some of the options exist to either freeze eggs or freeze embryos, or take other steps to protect fertility. So this is a time period when it's important to counsel women on what their reproductive risks are for cancer therapy, or what they can expect in the future," she said.