Drug used to prevent miscarriage increases risk of cancer in offspring — ScienceDaily

Exposure in utero to a drug used to prevent miscarriage may lead to an increased risk of developing cancer, according to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston).

The study is published today in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The drug, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17-OHPC), is a synthetic progestin commonly used by women in the 1950s and 1960s and is still prescribed to women today to help prevent preterm birth. Progesterone helps the uterus grow during pregnancy and prevents a woman from having early contractions that could lead to miscarriage.

“Children born to women who received the drug during pregnancy have twice as many cancers in their lifetime compared to children born to women who did not take this drug,” says Caitlin C. Murphy, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston. “We’ve seen cancers like colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and many others increase in people born in and after the 1960s, and nobody really knows why.”

Researchers reviewed data from the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan on women who received prenatal care between June 1959 and June 1967, and the California Cancer Registry, which detected cancer in the offspring through 2019.

Out of more than 18,751 live births, researchers found that 1,008 cancer diagnoses were made in offspring ages 0 to 58. In addition, a total of 234 offspring were exposed to 17-OHPC during pregnancy. In offspring exposed in utero, cancer was detected more than twice as often in adulthood as in offspring not exposed to the drug – 65% of cancers occurred in adults under the age of 50.

“Our findings suggest that taking this drug during pregnancy may interfere with early development, which may increase the risk of cancer decades later,” Murphy said. “With this drug, we’re seeing the effects of a synthetic hormone. Things that happened to us in the womb, or exposures in the womb, are major risk factors for developing cancer many decades after we’re born.”

A new randomized trial shows there is no benefit to taking 17-OHPC, nor does it reduce the risk of preterm birth, Murphy said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed in October 2020 to withdraw this particular drug from the market.

This work was supported by two National Institutes of Health: the National Cancer Institute (R01CA242558) and the National Institute of Child Health and Development (HHSN275201100020C).

Other authors include Piera M. Cirillo, MPH; Nickilou Y. Krigbaum, MPH; and Barbara A. Cohn, PhD, all with Child Health and Development Studies at the Public Health Institute.

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Materials supplied by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Originally written by Jeannette Sanchez. Note: Content is editable for style and length.

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