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Cancer Prevention Begins During Pregnancy

shown that a significant portion of the total lifetime exposure to PAHs and other toxins, including PCBs and dioxins, is transmitted to the fetus across the placental barrier and during nursing.

In laboratory studies, researchers exposed pregnant mice to a single high dose of one PAH called dibenzopyrene, a potent carcinogen, and about 80 percent of their 100 offspring died early in life from an aggressive T-cell lymphoma. Of those that survived to the mouse-equivalent of middle age, 100 percent had lung tumors.

By comparison, in a group of pregnant mice given the same carcinogen but who also received the chemo protective supplement Indole-3-carbinol, or I3C, deaths from lymphoma were cut in half, and the number of lung tumors later in life was significantly reduced.

"It's clear that in mice this supplement provided significant protection against lymphoma and, later on, lung cancer," Williams said. "It's also worth noting that none of the infant mice received the protective supplement later in their life, at any stage beyond breast feeding. The protective effect of the compound came solely from maternal intake during pregnancy and nursing, but lasted into the animal's middle age. This is somewhat remarkable."

Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, it's also true that only about one smoker in 10 gets lung cancer. It's possible, researchers say, that dietary and other factors in addition to smoking may predispose some smokers to get cancer while others don't. That this process may begin with carcinogens crossing the placental boundary – and might be affected by diet – is an area that has not been adequately studied, Williams said. In this study, both the exposure to carcinogens and the levels of Indole-3-carbinol given to pregnant mice through supplements were higher than those that would ordinarily be found in the environment or a normal diet, researchers said.

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