Kids' Cancer Care Won't Raise Birth Defect Risk

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Radiation to a girl’s reproductive organs can lead to infertility or increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and preterm birth. It can also cause infertility in boys if applied to their testes. | Shutterstock

Childhood cancer survivors are not at a higher risk of having children with birth defects, suggests a new study.

The study of 4,699 children of 1,128 men and 1,627 women who were five-year childhood cancer survivors found no increased risk of birth defects even if the cancer patients had been exposed to radiation to the testes or ovaries or chemotherapy involving DNA damage.

For children whose mothers were exposed to radiation or chemotherapy versus those who did not have cancer as children, the prevalence of birth defects was three per cent versus 3.5 per cent. For kids of males with childhood cancer, the prevalence was 1.9 per cent versus 1.7 per cent. These differences are not seen as clinically significant by the authors.

"Childhood cancer survivors face real reproductive concerns, including unknowns related to the effects of therapy, said lead author Lisa Signorello, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, in a release. Hopefully this study will provide some reassurance that their children are unlikely to be at increased risk for genetic defects stemming from their earlier treatment.

Radiation to a girl's reproductive organs can lead to infertility or increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and preterm birth. It can also cause infertility in boys if applied to their testes. And chemotherapy can also cause reproductive organs to malfunction. For those reasons, the authors wanted to determine whether offspring of childhhood cancer survivors were also affected by these treatments.

Whether humans have the capacity to repair damage to germ cell DNA or whether the various processes of reproduction filter out such insults (such as through early pregnancy losses or infertility) merit exploration, write the authors.

The study was published Monday online in the Journal of Clinic Oncology.

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