Cancer patients may be drastically impacted by abortion bans set to take effect across the south of the United States. The disease roughly affects 1 in 1,000 pregnancies, with breast cancer, melanoma, and cervical cancer being some of the most severe cases, according to CBS. Although new abortion restrictions will allow patients to undergo the procedure due to medical emergencies or “life-threatening physical conditions,” some physicians fear that the murky legal terms could lead to trouble for cancer patients.
For example, brain cancer patients are traditionally offered the option to receive an abortion if a pregnancy will “limit or delay surgery,” radiation treatment or cancer-related medical procedures. But now that new abortion laws are in effect, it’s unclear how the legal ramifications will impact those inflicted with the disease.
The situation has left many pregnant patients in a tricky position. Cancer medication and treatments can be potentially harmful to a developing fetus and may put a child at risk of developing birth defects. However, pregnant cancer patients can also develop life-threatening complications due to higher estrogen levels during pregnancy. Cancer research shows that high levels of estrogen can exacerbate cancer cell growth.
A difficult dilemma
The same dilemma exists for breast cancer patients. Doctors normally perform surgery to remove cancerous cells during the early stages of pregnancy. Chemotherapy radiation is typically performed later on in the pregnancy to avoid danger to the fetus. But some patients who have acute leukaemia may need to undergo the procedure sooner due to the disease’s aggressive nature. “Cancer left unabated can pose serious risks to life,” said Dr Debra Patt, an oncologist in Austin, Texas. This reality will put many pregnant cancer patients in a difficult spot. Do they receive cancer treatment or delay life-saving medical treatment to protect the growth of the fetus?
Dr. Miriam Atkins, an oncologist in Augusta, Georgia said that many cancer physicians are grappling with the conundrum. “I’m going to always be honest with patients. Oncology drugs are dangerous,” Atkins told CBS. “There are some drugs that you can give to [pregnant] cancer patients; there are many that you cannot.” In some cases, termination may be the best option for those with life-threatening cancer issues, but new laws could prevent patients from receiving the critical care they need.
Abortion has been banned in southern states like Texas, Georgia and Mississippi, but patients are allowed to receive the procedure under limited circumstances. It’s still unclear how physicians will determine what is legally permissible under the new laws. There are no rules that explicitly state how much risk there needs to be in order to legally label a patient’s condition as life-threatening.
Black Women may feel the brunt of Roe V. Wade’s dismantling
Pregnant cancer patients of color could be sorely impacted by new the abortion laws. While breast cancer incidence rates have declined among women in recent years, mortality rates continue to impact women of color. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation notes that Black women have a 41 percent higher death rate from breast cancer than other ethnicities. Black women have a higher incidence rate of aggressive cancers. The disparity is even greater among women under 50. Abortion care could be potentially life-saving for individuals with a higher risk of developing life-threatening pregnancy complications. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white peers. The mortality rate among Black mothers is expected to increase by 33 percent in the wake of Roe V. Wade’s historic overturning.
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