Science Answers the Question of Cancer and Pregnancy

What happens when a pregnant woman receives a diagnosis of cancer? Is abortion necessary in order to provide her with the best possible medical treatment?

These questions and more are answered in this week’s blog, The Latest.

The frequency of cancer during pregnancy is increasing, in part due to women delaying pregnancy because of career considerations. Even so, the incidence of a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy is rare with one out of every 1,000-2,000.

Watch Dr. Elyce Cardonick share why women can receive cancer treatment and protect their unborn babies.

The looming question is this. Is abortion necessary to protect the life of the pregnant patient? The most often cited research on cancer and pregnancy was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The science is in, and it provides women a great sense of hope and comfort to know that in a vast majority of cases they will not have to choose between the lives of their babies and life-saving treatment for cancer.

This study and several others conclude that after the first trimester unborn babies are not harmed by chemotherapy or radiation to treat cancer. Dr. Elyce Cardonick is a founder of Hope for Two, an organization that matches support for women diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy. They serve 80 to 100 women every year with the goal to educate them and provide assistance. Dr. Cardonick said that 80% of patients are not advised to abort their babies.

Doctors who do indicate abortion are often misinformed or operating from incorrect, outdated information. This errant approach to medicine is not dissimilar to physicians who make blanket dire predictions about unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The study compared children whose mothers received chemotherapy, radiation or both during pregnancy, with those who did not. They found that the cognitive abilities of children whose mothers were treated for cancer were similar to the control group. There was also no increased risk of heart problems – the two most worrisome concerns. The children demonstrated normal development when tested at 18 months and/or 36 months.

A 2020 study published in Lancet examined nine-year-old children born to women who experienced cancer treatment during pregnancy compared with a control group. They used “state-of-the-art multimodal MRI techniques, in combination with psychological testing, as well as obstetrical and oncological parameters.” The research concluded that “brain organization and functional connectivity were not significantly different between groups.”

Chemotherapy is widely avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy when the baby’s organs are developing but is considered safe during the second and third trimesters. Contrary to the belief that chemotherapy will harm unborn babies, it is uncontrolled cancer that can be a high risk to the preborn child.

Not only is abortion most often not indicated for cancer treatment, it may actually be counter to the mother’s wellbeing by subjecting her to an unnecessary invasive procedure and increase her risk of suicide, drug abuse or major depression.

Life Issues Institute produced a documentary featuring two families who faced a cancer diagnoses during pregnancy with very different outcomes. It was titled When the Mother’s Life Hangs in the Balance. Dr. Elyce Cardonick gave hope to women by sharing her experience and expertise.

Science and technology have given parents the green light to provide life-saving treatment while protecting the lives of their babies. Abortion is not the answer.


Bradley Mattes
President, Life Issues Institute

Life Issues Institute is dedicated to changing hearts and minds of millions of people through education. For 31 years, organizations and individuals around the world have depended upon Life Issues Institute to provide the latest information and effective tools to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb.

Life Issues Institute welcomes comments relevant to columns that are civil, concise, and respectful of other contributors. We do not publish comments with links to other websites or other online material.

3 thoughts on “Science Answers the Question of Cancer and Pregnancy

  1. Beautiful. Life is extraordinary. So is hope, faith, love. And often… when examined through a lens clearly: Science.

    Praying for medical professionals and parents alike to be equipped, encouraged, prepared, and positive.

    For the culture to re-learn the power of resilience and relationship.

  2. Chemotherapy is destructive for ANYONE. I make no exceptions. It is usually the chemotherapy that kills cancer patients, not the cancer. And I wouldn’t want to do an MRI on a pregnant mother. Where is the ear protection for the baby?

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