Your Pregnancy and Cancer Questions Answered

Dr. Jennifer Litton answers your questions.

ByABC News
November 7, 2007, 2:09 PM

Nov. 7, 2007 — -- This week "World News With Charles Gibson" reported on Linda Sanchez, a 26-year-old who is battling breast cancer during her first pregnancy.

We invited you to post your questions about pregnancy and cancer on our message boards. We sent your questions to Jennifer Litton, the breast oncologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who was quoted on that broadcast and whose expert answers appear below.

Question: What are the chemo drugs used in pregnancy that do not cross the placenta barrier?

Dr. Jennifer Litton, breast oncologist, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: We use a combination of 5-fluorouracil, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide. We cannot say that it does not cross the placenta. In fact, when given in the first trimester, these drugs have been associated with birth defects that can be up to 19 percent. However, when given in the second and third trimesters, this rate drops to 1.3 percent, which is approximately the same for the general public. In the second and third trimesters, the children at birth do not appear to be having the same side effects as their mothers. More research needs be done with both the mothers and the children.

Question: My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965 while pregnant with me and is a survivor and has never had a relapse since her mastectomy. My question is, do I have a higher risk of developing cancer?

Litton: We do not have significant evidence that you have a higher risk of developing cancer because you were exposed to chemotherapy in utero. However, if your mother was diagnosed at a young age, she may want to consider talking to her medical oncologist and being seen by a genetic counselor to see if there is any concern for an inheritable genetic predisposition to cancer, such as mutations in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. These are genes that fix mistakes in cells when they are dividing. In about 5-10 percent of breast cancers, these genes can be shut off and so cancers can develop including breast, ovarian and other cancers.

Question: What are your feelings on low doses of radiation therapy while pregnant? I am 27 weeks pregnant with Hodgkin's and have been delaying treatment until this point. My doctors think the radiation to the neck would be a better option than chemo. Just looking for more info!