Cancer Cells Can Be Transferred from Mother to Child

Scientists used to think that the immune system of the baby in the womb can successfully dispose of any offender that passes through the placenta – but the latest discoveries seem to be refuting that belief. There are 17 existing cases of mothers and their babies sharing the same kind of cancer, namely melanoma and leukemia, and the question of why it should have happened this way isn’t answered properly yet. But at the first approach it may well be that the mother’s cancer cells can find their way into the fetus.

Pregnant Woman

The case of a 28-year-old Japanese mother and her newborn daughter seems to uphold this theory. The mother died from leukemia and her daughter was found to suffer from exactly the same cancer, making it highly likely that the mother’s insidious cells had come through to the child.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that there is no other way the baby girl could have got the leukemia cells – her and her mother’s mutated cancer gene were identical.

It appears that some cancer cells are lacking some DNA – the factor that helps them to travel through the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream undestroyed by the immune system of the child.

Lead researcher Professor Mel Greaves concludes: “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 fetus and succeeded in implanting because they were invisible to the immune system.”

Yet this discovery is not so fearsome as it may appear; scientists believe that such instances of cancer cells transfer are exceptional and do not constitute a reason for anxiety for pregnant women.

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