Pharmacology of antineoplastic agents in pregnancy

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 1994 Apr;16(2):75-112. doi: 10.1016/1040-8428(94)90043-4.


The use of antineoplastic agents in pregnant women poses obvious risks to both the patient and the developing fetus, particularly during organogenesis. While the use of antineoplastics during pregnancy is often unavoidable, the physician may limit the risks by having a clear knowledge of the pharmacology and teratogenic potential of individual agents. Specific physiologic changes in the pregnant patient, such as enhanced renal excretion of drugs, increased or decreased hepatic function, altered gastrointestinal absorption and enterohepatic circulation, altered plasma protein binding, an increase in plasma volume (50%), and creation of a fluid filled 3rd compartment (amniotic fluid) for water soluble drugs may all significantly influence the pharmacology of antineoplastic agents. These physiological changes may effect the pregnant patients ability to absorb orally administered drugs, metabolize drugs to either active or inactive metabolites, and eliminate cytotoxically active drugs. A resulting reduction in concentration x time (C x T) for drug exposure to the maternal system may reduce the efficacy of the antineoplastic agents, while an increase in C x T may expose the patient and her fetus to undue toxicity. The timing of drug administration to gestational age is also a critical factor for some drugs. While many drugs result in adverse effects on the fetus regardless of gestational age, others appear to pose less of a threat if administered beyond the first trimester. This review addresses the pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and the teratogenic potential of individual antineoplastic agents that are commonly used in pregnant patients. The aim of this review is to help the physician select, on a patient specific basis, antineoplastic agents that avoid at least some of the fetal risk involved while maintaining efficacy in the treatment of the patient.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Busulfan / therapeutic use
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use
  • Cytarabine / therapeutic use
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / radiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytarabine
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Busulfan