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80% of Korean cancer patients keep pregnancies

Nearly 80 percent of Korean women who were diagnosed with cancer while pregnant between 1995 and 2013 chose to continue with their pregnancies, a study by Samsung Medical Center showed Monday.

The study, which researched a total of 50,412 women who gave birth at the medical institution from 1995 to 2013, found that 87 women were diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. The average age of the patients was 32.5. They were on average 24 weeks pregnant at the time of their diagnosis.

According to the paper, 69 out of 87 women -- 79.3 percent -- chose to keep their babies in spite of cancer. Among them, 68 women -- 98.5 percent -- gave birth to their newborns safely. One remaining patient died while being treated for leukemia during her pregnancy.
123RF
123RF

The women were on average 37 weeks pregnant when they gave birth. Their newborns were on average 2.53 kilograms when they were born. Among the 68, 50 percent of the babies were born prematurely, while 36.8 percent were placed in the neonatal intensive care unit. Three babies who were born prematurely died in the early neonatal period.

The hospital explained that there are a number of treatment options available for cancer patients even while pregnant.

Many of those who were diagnosed in the later stages of pregnancy chose to wait until their delivery to receive the necessary chemotherapy. Also, doctors may suggest inducing labor early to protect the baby from cancer treatments for some women, although it is preferred to continue the pregnancy until natural labor.

Some cancer treatments may be used during pregnancy, according to the hospital. Surgery -- removal of the tumor -- poses little risk to the growing baby and is largely considered the safest cancer treatment during pregnancy.

While chemotherapy during the first trimester carries risks of birth defects or pregnancy loss, doctors can give several types of chemotherapy without apparent risk to the fetus during the second and third trimesters, according to the hospital. A total of 24 women out of 69 women received cancer treatments while pregnant at the Samsung Medical Center.

Abortion is legally prohibited in South Korea except in certain circumstances, such as when the woman or her partner suffers from a contagious disease or when the maintenance of pregnancy could severely injure the health of the pregnant woman for medical reasons.

“Cancer during pregnancy is certainly a difficult situation, but it is not impossible to be cured from the disease while delivering a healthy baby,” said Choi Suk-joo, a gynecologist who organized the research at the hospital. “I just want to let the pregnant cancer patients know that there are options available and they need to study these options carefully before making their decisions.”

The Samsung Medical Center said they were not aware of any overseas studies to compare the statistics.

“We can’t say Korean pregnant women are more likely to continue with their pregnancies after cancer diagnosis (than women overseas who are faced with the same situation),” said Chloe Park from the hospital’s communication team.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)



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