Study Shows Drug Used to Prevent Miscarriage Increases Risk of Cancer in Offspring


The team found that out of more than 18,751 live births, 1008 cancer diagnoses were made in offspring 0 to 58 years of age.

A recent study has found that exposure in utero to a drug used to prevent miscarriage in mothers can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer in their offspring, according to a research team at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The drug, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17-OHPC), is a synthetic progestogen that was frequently used by women in the 1950s and 1960s. It is still currently prescribed to women to help prevent preterm birth and can help the womb grow during pregnancy while preventing a woman from having early contractions that may lead to miscarriage.

“Children who were born to women who received the drug during pregnancy have double the rate of cancer across their lifetime compared to children born to women who did not take this drug,” said lead study author Caitlin C. Murphy, PhD, MPH, in the press release. “We have seen cancers like colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and many others increasing in people born in and after the 1960s, and no one really knows why.”

The researchers reviewed data from the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan on women who received prenatal care between June 1959 and June 1967 and the California Cancer Registry, which traced cancer in offspring through 2019, according to the study authors.

The team found that out of more than 18,751 live births, 1008 cancer diagnoses were made in offspring 0 to 58 years of age. In addition, a total of 234 offspring were exposed to 17-OHPC during pregnancy. Offspring who were exposed in the womb had cancer detected in adulthood more than twice as often as offspring not exposed to the drug, with 65% of cancers occurring in adults younger than 50 years of age, according to the study.

“Our findings suggest taking this drug during pregnancy can disrupt early development, which may increase risk of cancer decades later,” Murphy said in the press release. “With this drug, we are seeing the effects of a synthetic hormone. Things that happened to us in the womb, or exposures in utero, are important risk factors for developing cancer many decades after we’re born.”

In a new randomized trial, there was no benefit shown in taking 17-OHPC and it did not reduce the risk of preterm birth, according to Murphy. In October 2020, the FDA proposed that this drug should be withdrawn from the market.


Drug used to prevent miscarriage increases risk of cancer in offspring. UT Health News. November 9, 2021. Accessed November 10, 2021.

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