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Cancer can be passed on in the womb

13th October 2009

A British team of scientists has said that they have proved a mother can pass cancerous cells on to her baby in the womb.

foetus1

The study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examines an issue which has baffled scientists for over a century.

Theoretically, any cancerous cells which are passed by the mother into her unborn child's bloodstream should should be destroyed by the baby's immune system.

However, records exist of 17 cases where a woman and her child both have the same type of cancer, most frequently leukaemia or melanoma.

The British study looked closely at the case of a Japanese woman and her baby, who both had leukaemia.

The team employed an "advanced genetic fingerprinting technique" to show that leukaemia cells in the baby had originally come from the mother.

They were able to prove that the child had not inherited a mutated cancer gene from its parents, which meant that it could not develop the disease on its own.

The team then proved that the child's immune system was not able to identify the cancer cells because they were missing "telltale molecular signs" in the DNA.

Lead researcher Professor Mel Greaves, of the Institute of Cancer Research, said: "It appears that in this and, we presume, other cases of mother-to-offspring cancer, the maternal cancer cells did cross the placenta into the developing foetus and succeeded in implanting because they were invisible to the immune system."

 

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