Most people don’t think of cancer as being a contagious disease, and it isn’t in the sense that it can’t be transmitted from person to person through close contact; but an interesting study shows that having cancer during pregnancy could, in rare cases, pose a health risk to the unborn baby.
Is Cancer Contagious?: A Disturbing Study
This study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that cancer cells may be passed from a mom-to-be to the unborn baby, and potentially increase the baby’s risk of developing a similar type of cancer.
This particular study looked at a case of a young woman who was diagnosed with leukemia, a type of blood cancer, shortly after giving birth to a baby. At the age of eleven months the baby was discovered to have a similar cancer. The possibility that the baby had contracted the cancer from the mother was supported by the fact that the genetic makeup of the cancer cells was identical to the mother’s – suggesting that the baby received the cancer cells directly from the mom and subsequently developed the same cancer.
Cancer During Pregnancy: Is It Risky to the Baby?
This isn’t the first time cancer during pregnancy has been passed to the unborn baby leading to a similar type of cancer. The researchers found other instances of this phenomenon – although it’s rare. In the past one hundred years there have only been around thirty cases of this type seen. This is the first time the cancer cells in the baby have been genetically identified and found to be from the mother.
Cancer During Pregnancy: How Can It Affect the Unborn Baby?
The placenta connects a mother’s blood supply with that of her unborn baby. Through the placenta the developing fetus receives nourishment, but is also exposed to whatever chemicals a mother puts in her body such as alcohol and drugs. Normally, the immune system of a fetus exposed to cancer during pregnancy through the placenta would recognize the cancerous cells as foreign and destroy them so that a full blown malignancy wouldn’t develop. So, why did this baby get a similar cancer? The researchers found that a portion of the genetic material or DNA that allowed the cells to be recognized as foreign had been altered or deleted so they couldn’t be recognized by the immune system. Thus, the cancer cells were able to escape detection and multiply in the developing baby unchecked.
Cancer During Pregnancy: Should Moms With Cancer Not Get Pregnant?
While this unusual case of a cancer during pregnancy affecting an unborn baby may be disturbing, it doesn’t appear to be a common phenomenon and probably won’t preclude moms with cancer from having babies. It does bear watching as it may give additional insights into how cancer cells are recognized and eliminated by the immune system.