11:49am Monday 17 February 2020

Mother and baby doing well after mouth cancer patient’s labour starts during radiotherapy

One of a handful of women in the world to undergo cancer treatment whilst pregnant has celebrated the birth of a healthy baby boy thanks to pioneering treatment from clinicians at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW).

When thirty year old mother-to-be Sarah from Warwickshire discovered that an ulcer on her tongue was cancerous in January 2011 she joined just seven other women recorded in the world who have undergone the same chemotherapy whilst pregnant, meaning there was little information available about how she and her unborn child would tolerate treatment.

Having battled for her own life and the life of her unborn child through complex surgery, six weeks of chemotherapy and 32 days of radiotherapy, Sarah’s labour began five weeks early, in the middle of her final day of treatment.

Consultant Oncologist Dr Lydia Fresco explained that Sarah presented a technical challenge to the physics and radiotherapy team planning and delivering her radiotherapy who specially designed and built a protective shield to minimize the exposure to her unborn baby. It was a great delight to all staff who were involved in looking after Sarah at UHCW that mother and baby are both safe.

The rare surgical procedure, led by UHCW’s head and neck surgeon Mr Gary Walton, involved removing part of Sarah’s tongue and glands in her neck and reconstructing her tongue with tissue from the left arm using microsurgical techniques.

The operation that Sarah underwent was a success, but it left her unable to receive any gas-and-air pain relief during the birth.

Under the watchful care of UHCW’s maternity specialist, Mr Manu Vatish, Sarah delivered a healthy 4lb 10oz baby boy on 28 April 2011.

Commenting on the remarkable sequence of events, Mr Walton said: “This type of treatment is complex at the best of times, and is very rarely carried out on pregnant women, so we had to stay in close contact with the maternity team throughout. I am delighted that Sarah has responded so well to the treatment, especially now that she has Jake to look after too”.

Mr Vatish, said: “Sarah’s treatment for cancer left her extremely vulnerable to the risk of infection so we kept her antenatal appointments to a minimum and always ensured she had the first appointment of the day limit her time there.

“The baby was monitored through ultrasounds, and we cared for Sarah whilst she was being treated by Dr Fresco and her team. It’s a great example of how two different departments can work together seamlessly when a rare case arises to ensure the best outcome for the patient. “We will are monitoring both Sarah and Jake very closely, and will continue to do so for the next five years, but the early indications are extremely positive”

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