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Could chemo drug affect baby’s future fertility?

11 August, 2016

Could chemo drug affect baby’s future fertility?

Taking a chemotherapy drug during pregnancy may affect the future fertility of unborn baby girls, a study suggests.

Researchers have found that a drug called etoposide can damage the development of mouse ovary tissue grown in the lab.

The drug affects specialised cells called germ cells, which give rise to eggs.

And the results indicate that baby girls born to women being treated with the drug could potentially undergo an early menopause.

However, it is not yet know if the drug has similar effects on human tissue and further research is required.

Around one in 1000 pregnant women are diagnosed with cancer.

Etoposide is used by the NHS to treat several types of cancer and is considered safe for use in the second and third trimester of pregnancy because it has a low risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

But little is known about the longer-term effects of the drug on the unborn baby.

Jacque Gerrard, RCM director for England, said: ‘Midwives are caring for women every day who are affected by cancer during pregnancy, and it’s important that care given is based on the evidence.

‘We hope that this is just the start of the research. Clearly more is needed if we are to provide safe care for our women with cancer in pregnancy to help improve outcomes for both mother and baby.’

She revealed that the RCM is planning to develop an online education module for members, which will cover underlying conditions, including cancer.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh studied the effects of etoposide treatment on the development of mouse ovary tissue grown in the lab.

They found that treatment before the follicles had developed wiped out up to 90% of germ cells, even at doses that are low relative to those given to patients.

Treatment after the follicles were developed had no significant adverse effects, the research shows.

Follicle development begins around 17 weeks into the baby's development in the womb and is not completed until the later stages of pregnancy.

Lead researcher Professor Norah Spears, of the University’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, said: ‘If the results we have seen in these mouse studies are replicated in human tissue, it could mean that girls born to mums who are taking etoposide during pregnancy have a reduced fertility window.’

The study is published in the journal BMC Cancer and can be accessed by clicking here.

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