Breast cancer

10 April 2013

Oestrogen level in pregnancy may affect cancer risk

Too much of the hormone can disable tumour suppressor gene, researchers report.


Daughters born to women who had excess levels of oestrogen during pregnancy may be at increased risk for breast cancer, a new study suggests.

That's because high oestrogen levels in the womb can disable the powerful breast cancer tumour suppressor gene BRCA1 in daughters, the researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center said in a Georgetown news release.

What the study found

Their study of one-year-old girls whose mothers had high oestrogen levels during pregnancy also found that the daughters had other gene abnormalities that can contribute to the risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.

This includes a gene defect in the so-called unfolded protein response pathway, which has been linked to breast cancer risk and resistance to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.

Although the study found an association between high oestrogen levels in pregnancy and factors that raise breast cancer risk in daughters, it did not prove cause and effect.

If the findings are confirmed, they could be used to identify women at increased risk for breast cancer and to lower their risk before the disease develops, the researchers said.

There are drugs available that may make it "possible to reverse the increase in breast cancer risk and prevent development of resistance to tamoxifen in these women," study lead author Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, a professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi, said in the news release.

The study was to be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, in Washington, DC. The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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