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Presence of fetal cells in women lowers risk of breast cancer but raises risk of colon cancer
Date:5/3/2012

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Previous studies, including research by Gadi and colleagues, found associative links between concentrations of fetal microchimerism and a decreased risk of breast cancer as well as a heightened risk of some autoimmune diseases. However, those studies were based on blood drawn from women after the onset of their disease.

"Fetal microchimerism may be highly relevant to later cancer development. However, the study does not allow us to identify the underlying biological mechanisms," Gadi said.

Gadi has a hypothesis (not contained in the study) that the fetal cells could be producing a naturally occurring graft-versus-tumor effect but the effect may be having different impacts based on the cancer type. "There are diseases of the GI tract that are associated with chronic inflammation and it is entirely possible that fetal cells are driving, seeding or initiating that inflammation or are involved in the process," he said regarding the link to colon cancer.

Detection of Y-chromosome fetal cells, thought to originate from previous pregnancies with a male fetus, is common in women. During pregnancy, fetal cells naturally pass into the mother where they can persist in small numbers in the blood and tissues for decades after childbirth.

Interestingly, this latest study also found no obvious association between the number of live-born sons and testing positive for male microchimerism. Overall, 65 percent of women with no live-born sons tested positive for Y-chromosome fetal cells, according to the study.

"A source of Y chromosomes in women with no sons could be unrecognized pregnancies with a male fetus that terminated early," Gadi said regarding a possible explanation.


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Contact: Dean Forbes
dforbes@fhcrc.org
206-667-2896
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Source:Eurekalert

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