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Childhood Cancer Survivors’ Exposure to Chemotherapy or Radiation Does Not Increase Risk of Birth Defects in their Children


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A large, retrospective study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that children of childhood cancer survivors who received prior treatment involving radiation to testes or ovaries and/or chemotherapy with alkylating agents do not have an increased risk for birth defects compared to children of survivors who did not have such cancer treatment. The findings provide reassurance that increased risks of birth defects are unlikely for cancer survivors who are concerned about the potential effects of their treatment on their children, and can help guide family planning choices.

“We hope this study will become part of the arsenal of information used by the physicians of childhood cancer survivors if reproductive worries arise,” says lead author Lisa Signorello, SCD, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and senior epidemiologist at the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, MD.

Study shows that children of childhood cancer survivors who received prior treatment involving radiation to testes or ovaries and/or chemotherapy with alkylating agents do not have an increased risk for birth defects.

“Childhood cancer survivors face real reproductive concerns, including unknowns related to the effects of therapy. But 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.”

The study is among the largest to examine birth defects in children of childhood cancer survivors, and among the first to evaluate birth defects using medical records to validate both the children’s health problems and the parents’ radiation and chemotherapy exposures.

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2012.