“Only one in a thousand women are diagnosed with cancer when they’re pregnant,” says maternal-fetal medicine and cancer and pregnancy specialist Elyce H. Cardonick, MD, Director of Cooper’s Cancer and Childbirth Registry. “In many cases, the patient’s obstetrician never had a cancer patient and their oncologist never had a pregnant patient, so neither physician has a large number of patients on which to base care decisions.”
Now, with the Cooper Cancer and Pregnancy Registry, they do. With more than 428 women and 464 children in its database to date, the registry is the only one of its kind in the U.S. and one of only two in the world (the other is in Europe). Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer seen in this patient population, but the registry also has collected information on women with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, and other cancer types.
“The purpose of our program is to pool information from this complex patient population and answer questions such as ‘How do 200 women do in a particular situation versus one physician’s experience with three women?’” Dr. Cardonick says. The registry serves as a resource for physicians as well as patients around the world. It is informing—and changing— the way pregnant women are treated for cancer.
“What we’re learning is that most types of cancer don’t require termination of pregnancy,” she continues. “In fact, when I started the registry in 1997, 20% of doctors recommended termination; today, that’s down to 12%. Plus, we’ve learned that preterm delivery is not always necessary. So we’re able to reassure women that they don’t necessarily have to terminate or choose their baby over themselves.”
Dr. Cardonick also is doing long-term tracking of the children born to women in the registry—something no one else is doing.
“The data are showing us how women can have surgery, x-rays and, amazingly, even certain types of full-dose chemotherapy during pregnancy without harming their baby,” she says. “By accumulating the data in one place, we’re able to see patterns and trends—and reassure women and physicians about care decisions and the impact they have on child development, breastfeeding, and more.”
“Dr. Cardonick is the country’s leading expert on cancer and pregnancy, and this is the largest registry in the United States that collects data on women and children exposed to chemo during pregnancy,” says Generosa Grana, MD, director of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. “It’s an invaluable resource for giving women and their doctors choices that they didn’t have in the past.”
“It’s important not to be hasty in forcing termination or embarking on treatment without taking advantage of the knowledge available via this registry,” she stresses. “Dr. Cardonick is always available to speak to community physicians or the patient herself dealing with this difficult and frightening situation.”
“We appreciate the opportunity to enroll a patient in our registry, even if they’re not seen here at Cooper, and regardless of their location,” Dr. Cardonick adds. “And I’m happy to collaborate or consult with physicians anywhere, too, to share what we know about cancer and pregnancy.”
She also can recommend patient support resources, including a virtual support group, Hope for Two, based in Buffalo, New York, that matches individual patients with others in a similar situation.
For more information, please contact Dr. Cardonick at 1.877.635.4499 or email CancerInPregnancy@cooperhealth.edu.