How is non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) treated during pregnancy?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021
  • Author: Sanjay Vinjamaram, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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NHL during pregnancy is uncommon, but it presents an ethical dilemma. Remission may be obtained with chemotherapy, but chemotherapy has potentially harmful effects to the fetus. Consider fetal exposure to transplacental chemotherapy when evaluating therapy options and carefully evaluate the timing of delivery.

For patients diagnosed with NHL during the second or third trimester of pregnancy, few literature reports suggest that they can be treated with chemotherapy without significant toxicity to the fetus. If possible, alkylating agents should be avoided. If the fetus can be delivered safely prior to administration of chemotherapy and a short wait will not affect the treatment outcome and prognosis of the patient, starting the treatment after the birth of the baby is better.

If the patient has high-grade NHL (eg, Burkitt or lymphoblastic lymphoma) diagnosed during the first trimester of pregnancy, immediate institution of therapy is necessary; otherwise, the condition could be fatal. Discuss at length with the patient and family that chemotherapy treatment at this period of pregnancy is very risky for the fetus, and whether therapeutic termination of pregnancy should be performed before the patient is treated should be decided. Consultation with the ethical committee of the hospital should be obtained in these very difficult situations.

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