New research on pregnant women diagnosed with breast cancer shows that such patients can benefit from cancer treatment without harming their babies.
The study, reviewed this past weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Breast Cancer Symposium, challenges traditional medical advice that expecting mothers should terminate their pregnancies in order to receive life-saving cancer treatment.
The study followed 54 women diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy from 1997 to 2009. The women received chemotherapy during and after pregnancy. After five years, pregnant breast cancer patients were found to have similar results to a control group of non-pregnant women who received the same cancer treatment.
In fact, the results show that those who received treatment during pregnancy had a slight one percent edge in the rate of survival over women who were not pregnant.
Pro Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler said he is not surprised by the results.
"I am very skeptical that there's ever a reason for abortion," he said, noting that most women who seek an abortion in the midst of a medical emergency are not considering all the options.
"The problem is we have two things working against a life-embracing culture," Scheidler added. First, he said, some doctors are afraid that something might go wrong. Second, some physicians and doctors are embracing abortion as a way to lighten their case load.
"When you dig a little deeper, you find that it (abortion) is really a quick fix," he noted.
In regard to treating breast cancer, the author of the new study, Dr. Jennifer Litton of Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, said there is little risk to receiving cancer treatment while pregnant. In fact, Litton concluded that "standard breast cancer therapy should be implemented during pregnancy and optimal systemic treatment need not be delayed."
Dismissing the premise that abortion is necessary when the mother's life is in medical danger, Scheidler emphasized, "We need a broader prospective, a spiritual prospective."
According to Scheidler, that prospective starts with a doctor who values a human life and considers the fetus as a client. It also requires that mothers consider self-sacrifice.
"At least consider the possibility of sacrifice," he advised. "That used to be considered a noble thing. Now people consider you insane when you talk about sacrificing yourself. At least consider the option of sacrifice even if that sacrifice is [no] treatment for the duration of the pregnancy or yourself."
According to the study, however, little sacrifice may be needed. Litton said those born during the study are now healthy 21-year-olds. Researchers have found that the rate of malformations or negative birth outcomes is no higher in those treated with chemotherapy than those who were not.
Scheidler said he is encouraged by the study's findings and hopes more women will value their unborn children.
"I'm happy to hear about the study," he said.