Children born after their mothers were treated with chemotherapy during pregnancy appear to be unaffected by the experience in terms of the development of their mental processes and the normal functioning of their hearts, according to new research presented at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress.
Professor Frederic Amant will tell the congress: "To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that children of 18 months and older have been examined after chemotherapy during pregnancy, and the news is reassuring in respect of the effects of chemotherapy on cognitive and cardiac outcomes."
However, he will say that a significant number (47) of the 70 children born from 68 pregnancies were delivered preterm and the researchers found that prematurity, but not chemotherapy, did affect these children's cognitive development significantly.
Prof Amant, a gynaecological oncologist at the University Hospitals Leuven (Leuven, Belgium), and colleagues in two other European countries (The Netherlands and the Czech Republic) started to recruit children to the study in 2005.
They included children who had been born before that time (between 1991-2004) as well as those born between 2005-2010, so that they ranged in age from 18 months to 18 years. The children were examined at birth and at the ages of 18 months, 5-6, 8-9, 11-12, 15-16 and 18 years.
The children's health was monitored for an average of nearly two years, with some of them being followed for as long as 18 years.
While the 68 mothers were pregnant, they were being treated with chemotherapy, either on its own or in combination with radiotherapy or surgery or both, for a range of different cancers.
The most common cancer was breast (35 women), followed by haematological cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas (18), ovarian cancer (6), cervical cancer (4); other cancers included brain, skin, colorectal, nasopharyngeal, and Ewing's Sarcoma.
The researchers collected data on the mothers' treatment and medical history, and then assessed the children's general health, school performance, any sporting activity and the family's social situation by means of questionnaire completed by the parents at each assessment visit.
They looked at the development of the children's mental processes by evaluating intelligence, verbal and non-verbal memory, attention, working memory and executive functions (the ability to control and regulate other abilities and behaviours).
Parents also completed a questionnaire on behavioural and emotional problems. Cardiac function was assessed by electrocardiography (ECG) and echocardiography.
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