Chemotherapy During Pregnancy: Yes, It’s Possible

BY Jason Kane  May 17, 2012 at 3:00 PM EDT

Editor’s Note: As the nation marks National Women’s Health Week, PBS NewsHour will share the stories of three women — and their doctors — who refused to allow a cancer diagnosis interfere with a successful pregnancy. These are their stories of hope, perseverance and, ultimately, success.

No sushi. No caffeine. No alcohol. No Ibuprofen.

Minnie Narth could recite everything she’d heard she wasn’t supposed to have while pregnant.

But as she entered her third trimester, her body was in desperate need of something she would never have predicted: chemotherapy.

Narth had just learned she had cancer. Stage-4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, to be precise, and her doctors informed her that thousands of women carry their children to term each year while receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment.

As many as one in 1,000 women are being diagnosed with malignant cancer during pregnancy each year, according to Dr. Natali Aziz at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. One in 6,000 develop lymphoma alone.

Those numbers are on the rise as women continue having children later in life. But so too are the treatment options.

When Aziz broke the cancer news to Narth and her husband Paul, she advised them — with a high level of confidence — that continuing the pregnancy would be possible.

“Just 10 to 20 years ago, that would have been much more difficult,” Aziz said. “And though it’s more common these days, the end result is always amazing amidst a very frightening diagnosis. Minnie was able to celebrate one of the most amazing joys of her life — the birth of her son.”

Read more about the Narths’ story in the slide show above.