Adjuvant breast cancer chemotherapy during late-trimester pregnancy: not quite a standard of care

Epstein, Richard J.
January 2007
BMC Cancer;2007, Vol. 7, p92
Academic Journal
Background: Diagnosis of breast cancer during pregnancy was formerly considered an indication for abortion. The pendulum has since swung to the other extreme, with most reviews now rejecting termination while endorsing immediate anthracycline-based therapy for any pregnant patient beyond the first trimester. To assess the evidence for this radical change in thinking, a review of relevant studies in the fields of breast cancer chemotherapy, pregnancy, and drug safety was conducted. Discussion: Accumulating evidence for the short-term safety of anthracycline-based chemotherapy during late-trimester pregnancy represents a clear advance over the traditional norm of therapeutic abortion. Nonetheless, the emerging orthodoxy favoring routine chemotherapy during gestation should continue to be questioned on several grounds: (1) the assumed difference in maternal survival accruing from chemotherapy administered earlier — i.e., during pregnancy, rather than after delivery — has not been quantified; (2) the added survival benefit of adjuvant cytotoxic therapy prescribed within the hormone-rich milieu of pregnancy remains presumptive, particularly for ER-positive disease; (3) the maternal survival benefit associated with modified adjuvant regimens (e.g., weekly schedules, omission of taxanes, etc.) has not been proven equivalent to standard (e.g., post-delivery) regimens; and (4) the long-term transplacental and transgenerational hazards of late-trimester chemotherapy are unknown. Summary: Although an incrementally increased risk of cancer-specific mortality is impossible to exclude, mothers who place a high priority on the lifelong well-being of their progeny may be informed that deferring optimal chemotherapy until after delivery is still an option to consider, especially in ER-positive, node-negative and/or last-trimester disease.


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