AUG 12, 2017 10:51 AM PDT

How Chemotherapy Affects the Female Fetus

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Chemotherapy works against cancer by poisoning the cells. As such, few chemotherapy agents are safely prescribed to expectant women. Now, the list of available drugs shrink even further, as scientists find etoposides may affect not only the mother, but also damage the germ cells of the unborn daughter. This could mean girls born to mothers who were treated with etoposides during pregnancy could have reduced fertility outcome and even earlier menopause.

Etoposides are often used to treat leukemia, lymphoma, ovarian cancer, and testicular cancer. It works as a topoisomerase inhibitor, blocking the cancer cells’ ability to divide. This drug is considered to be safe for pregnant women in their second and third trimester of pregnancy (from 4 to 9 months).
 
But whether etoposides cause long-term health effects to the fetus has yet to be explored fully. “Studies looking at the effects of taking chemotherapy drugs during pregnancy have focused on the immediate effects, such as increased miscarriage rates or severe fetal abnormalities," said Norah Spears, scientist at the University of Edinburgh and senior author of the study.
 
To investigate chemotherapy in pregnancy, Spears and her team exposed fetal and neonatal mouse ovaries to etoposides. In particular, they timed the exposure to when the fetal ovarian follicles had yet to fully enclose an immature oocyte, an egg cell.
 


They found that this led to significant follicle deaths that correspond to the intensity of the etoposide doses. That is, at medium doses, follicle death rate was 72 percent, whereas at high doses, follicle death rate was 90 percent.
 
"In a study involving mouse tissue, we have shown that etoposide can damage the development of the ovaries while a fetus is in the womb. The drug affects the germ cells in the ovaries, which are the cells that give rise to eggs. This is important because it could mean that the fertility of the offspring could be affected in later life," explained Spears.
 
Unlike men, a woman’s biological reproductive potential (in terms of eggs), is set even before she is born. As such, the finding that a female fetus’ germ cells die in response to her mother’s chemotherapy treatment is highly worrisome.
 
"This study suggests that chemotherapy treatment may have important longer term effects on the babies of women who undergo chemotherapy while pregnant which would only become apparent in adulthood,” said Spears. “If the results we have seen in these mouse studies are found to be replicated in humans, some of that germ cell supply would be lost, which could later result in early menopause, thus reducing the woman's fertility window.” Spears cautions that the further research is needed to understand how etoposides may affect human fetuses. 
 

Additional sources: University of Edinburgh press release, MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 04, 2020
Cancer
A Retroactive Study Finds an Immunotherapy Effective as a Third-Line Therapy
MAY 04, 2020
A Retroactive Study Finds an Immunotherapy Effective as a Third-Line Therapy
Cancer is a particularly persistent disease. Many therapies are composed of one or more different treatments. These trea ...
MAY 14, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
New Tech Has Its AI on Brain Tumors
MAY 14, 2020
New Tech Has Its AI on Brain Tumors
  A collaboration across 29 research and healthcare agencies is putting together the world’s largest brain tu ...
MAY 03, 2020
Cancer
New genes targeted for anti-cancer therapies
MAY 03, 2020
New genes targeted for anti-cancer therapies
Research published in the journal Genome Biology reports the discovery of two overlooked genes that have the potential t ...
MAY 17, 2020
Cancer
Text message reminders don't cut it
MAY 17, 2020
Text message reminders don't cut it
New research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that contrary to previous investigations’ results ...
MAY 21, 2020
Cancer
When is the best time to talk about end-of-life decisions with your teen who has cancer?
MAY 21, 2020
When is the best time to talk about end-of-life decisions with your teen who has cancer?
A study published recently in JAMA Network highlights the need for improved pediatric advanced care for adolescents with ...
JUN 04, 2020
Cancer
Inhibiting the Signals Critical for Cancer Growth in Merkel Cell Carcinoma
JUN 04, 2020
Inhibiting the Signals Critical for Cancer Growth in Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a highly aggressive cancer of the skin. It is characterized by a high recurrence rate and ...
Loading Comments...