Miscarriage Medication May Increase Childhood Cancer Risk, Study Finds

A miscarriage medication that has been routinely given to women for decades may lead to an increased risk of childhood cancer, according to a recent study. (Getty Images)

HOUSTON, Texas ( – A miscarriage drug given routinely to women for decades may lead to an increased risk of childhood cancer, according to a recent study.

Drugs, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17-OHPC), was much more common in the 1950s and 1960s, but doctors still prescribe it to prevent premature births. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center say 17-OHPC is a synthetic progestin, which means it makes the uterus grow bigger during pregnancy. This helps prevent early contractions and subsequent miscarriage.

“Children born to women who received the drug during pregnancy have double the rate of cancer during their lifetime compared to children born to women who did not take the drug,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Caitlin Murphy, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health, in an academic publication. “We have seen cancers like colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and many more increase in people born in and after the 1960s, and no one really knows why.”

The researchers looked at two sets of data to reach these conclusions. They included information from the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan concerning women receiving antenatal care between June 1959 and June 1967, and the California Cancer Registry which allowed the team to trace cancer results among their offspring to 2019.

17-OHPC doubles cancer risk

Out of a total of 18,751 children born in the 1950s and 1960s, researchers identified 1,008 cases of cancer. During this time, the mothers of 234 of these people received 17-OHPC during their pregnancy. People exposed to the drug in the womb were more than twice as likely to develop cancer as children whose mothers did not take the drug. In total, 65 percent of cancer cases occur before the person is 50 years old.

“Our results suggest that taking this drug during pregnancy may disrupt early development, which may increase cancer risk decades later,” notes Dr. Murphy. “With this drug, we see the effects of a synthetic hormone. Things that happened to us in the womb, or in utero exposures, are significant risk factors for developing cancer decades after we are born.

Dr Murphy adds that this is not the first sign that 17-OHPC is dangerous and unnecessary. A recent randomized trial reports that there are no real benefits to taking 17-OHPC, nor does it help prevent miscarriages. In October 2020, the FDA proposed to completely remove 17-OHPC from the market.

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


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