Date: March 2022, Version 2

Quick read

Imatinib might cause birth defects if used in pregnancy but stopping the drug could cause cancer to come back. A doctor will advise on the risks and benefits for each woman.

What is it?

Imatinib (Glivec®) is used to treat specific types of leukaemia, and some other cancers.


What are the benefits of using imatinib in pregnancy?

Imatinib can be an effective treatment for leukaemia and other types of cancer. Continued imatinib treatment helps to prevent cancer from returning.


Are there any risks of using imatinib in pregnancy?

Possibly. Around 200 women taking imatinib in early pregnancy have been studied. While most of their babies were healthy, a handful had a similar pattern of birth defects. This suggests that in rare cases, imatinib might affect the unborn baby’s development.


Are there any alternatives to taking imatinib in pregnancy?

Possibly. Other drugs that are safer in pregnancy can be used to treat some cancers but may not work as well as imatinib. Occasionally, treatment can be stopped while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. A doctor will help to weigh up the risk of cancer coming back against the possible benefit to the baby of stopping or changing treatment.

No treatment

What if I prefer not to take medicines in pregnancy?

Cancer treatment may need to be continued in pregnancy to ensure the woman and her baby remain well.

A doctor will only prescribe medicines when necessary and will be happy to talk about any concerns.

Will I or my baby need extra monitoring?

As part of routine antenatal care in the UK, all women are invited for a very detailed scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to check the baby’s development. As imatinib might be linked to birth defects, more detailed scanning may be carried out. Extra checks of the baby’s growth may also be offered, particularly in later pregnancy.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has used imatinib?

We would not expect any increased risk to the baby if the father took imatinib before or around the time you became pregnant.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.