Childhood cancer survivors are not more likely to terminate pregnancies, study concludes

HELSINKI, Finland — It’s more difficult for women who beat cancer as a child to become pregnant in comparison to the general population. But, that doesn’t mean that once they’re pregnant cancer survivors are any more likely to undergo an abortion. That’s the main conclusion of a new study conducted by scientists in Finland.

In the past, it’s been theorized that cancer survivors are more hesitant to have kids and start a family for two main reasons. The first is over concerns about the health of their children. The second is the possibility of one’s cancer re-emerging. According to this theory, female childhood cancer survivors would be more likely to get an abortion.

To test the validity of this idea, a team of researchers from the Finnish Cancer Registry analyzed data on cancer, birth, and abortion rates. The team, led by Johanna M. Melin, MD, PhD, created a comparison between 420 first pregnancies among childhood cancer survivors and 2,508 first pregnancies from the general population. The pregnancies all took place between 1987 and 2013.

Debunking the myth connecting cancer and abortion

The results reveal cancer survivors indeed have lower odds of becoming pregnant. Survivors had a 28-percent lower chance of becoming pregnant than other women. However, abortion rates during a first pregnancy were very similar among all women, regardless of whether or not they had cancer as a child.

“Our study shows that the risk of terminating a pregnancy is similar in childhood cancer survivors and population controls, suggesting that female childhood cancer survivors are as willing as their peers to continue the pregnancy and become parents,” Dr. Melin explains in a press release. “Also, research has found no increased risk for congenital anomalies in children born to cancer survivors. In our study, termination of pregnancy due to congenital anomaly or birth defect of the fetus was very rare in childhood cancer survivors.”

In conclusion, study authors say their findings show just how important it is for doctors to try and preserve patients’ fertility during cancer treatments.

The study is published in Cancer.