Breast cancer

Updated 09 November 2017

Baby protects mom from cancer

Having children could reduce the risk of getting breast cancer because cells with strong protective characteristics are transferred from the baby in the womb to the mother.

Having children could reduce the risk of getting breast cancer because cells with strong protective characteristics are transferred from the baby in the womb to the mother, a study showed Tuesday.

Researchers in Seattle studied 82 women, 35 of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, to test a theory that foetal cells which take up residence in the mother - called foetal micro-chimerism - protect against breast cancer.

"Most studies have looked at autoimmune diseases where chimerism has been shown to be bad, but so many women harbour micro-chimerism after pregnancy in detectable levels that I reasoned there must be some reason why nature decided this must be a good thing to do," the lead author on the study, V. K. Gadi told AFP.

Foetal cells may repair body
"Perhaps it's this function of clearing cancer cells from your body.

Another possibility is that it could participate in tissue repair," he said.

The research team at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Centre in Seattle searched blood samples from each participant for male DNA, which was easier to isolate than DNA from a female child.

"I don't have any intrinsic reason to believe that a male child would be any more protective than a female child," Gadi stressed, adding that the researchers hope to conduct studies into foetal chimerism from all sources.

The results showed that about 14 percent of all women in the breast cancer group had male DNA in their bloodstream compared with 43 percent of women in the non-breast cancer group.

Killing potential cancer cells
"My hypothesis was that maybe foetal cells can get into a mother and recognise a pre-cancer breast cancer cell and kill it before it becomes an active cancer," Gadi said.

"We have other studies from our group where we believe stem cells are really what are coming over, establishing themselves in various tissues and producing themselves," he added, urging follow-up studies.

Foetal cells could remain in the mother for the duration of her life, offering protection against cancer, Gadi said.

The results of the study were published in the October issue of Cancer Research. – (Sapa)


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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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