Research published in the Lancet has revealed that survivors of childhood cancer have a greater risk of giving birth to stillborn babies or having their children die in the neonatal period, than the rest of the general population. Exposure to radiation through radiotherapy treatments can cause damage not only to the recipient, but also to the recipient’s offspring.
The study authors admitted they have no idea of the reproductive effect of cancer treatments given to children.
Young people who took part in the Childhood Cancer Survival Study were less than 21 years of age at the time of diagnosis and had survived for at least five years after the diagnosis. They were treated at 25 US cancer centers and one Canadian cancer center.
Researchers looked at what chemotherapy was given to the patients and the dosages of radiotherapy to the pituitary gland, testes, ovaries and uterus.
The study was comprised of 1,148 men and 1,657 women who had survived cancer. There were 4,946 pregnancies in the survivors. They found that for men who had received radiation treatment to their testicles, there was no increased risk of stillbirth in their offspring. Women who had had treatment to their pituitary gland also fared well and didn’t appear to have an increased risk of giving birth to a stillborn baby, but irradiation of the ovaries and uterus significantly increased the risk of stillbirth and in women who had had radiotherapy before their first period, they had a significantly increased risk of stillbirth and neonatal death of their babies.
The study authors concluded:
‘Our findings do not support concern about heritable genetic changes affecting the risk of stillbirth and neonatal death in the offspring of men exposed to gonadal irradiation. However, uterine and ovarian irradiation had serious adverse effects on the offspring that were probably related to uterine damage. Careful management is warranted of pregnancies in women given high doses of pelvic irradiation before puberty.’
They explained that these adverse effects were due to radiation impairing the blood flow to the ovaries and uterus.