Scientists at Edinburgh University have found that the chemotherapy drug, etoposide, given to pregnant cancer patients can damage the development of ovary tissue in mice.

The team studied the effects of etoposide treatment and said further research is needed to assess whether the drug has similar effects on human tissue.

Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the British Fertility Society (BFS) and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:

“Cancer is diagnosed in approximately one out of every 1000 pregnancies, often requiring pregnant women to consider chemotherapy treatment during pregnancy.

“This is the first study to examine the long term effects of chemotherapy during pregnancy and the results suggests that the drug etoposide, which has been proven safe during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, may have an impact on the finite store of eggs being created within their daughter’s ovaries whilst still in the womb.

“While this is important information for pregnant women who may need chemotherapy, it is too early to say the degree to which this study carried out in mice might relate to humans. We must also weigh any benefits of cancer treatment against these potential risks. These decisions should be made jointly between a woman and her specialist healthcare team.”

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