Public Release: 

Mothers who drink during pregnancy may increase children's cancer risk, study shows

Georgetown University Medical Center

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may put their daughters at a higher risk of breast cancer, according to researchers at Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center. Their findings were reported at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Prevention meeting in Boston.

"Previous studies have shown a strong link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk, and this may be caused by alcohol increasing levels of circulating estrogen," said Anna Cabanes, PhD, instructor of oncology and lead author of the paper presented at the AACR meeting. "Our study shows that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is likely to increase not just the mother's breast cancer risk, but her daughter's as well."

Hilakivi-Clarke and her colleague found that female rats exposed to alcohol in utero developed breast tumors at a significantly higher rate; their study also showed that the female offspring had higher breast density, and more estrogen receptors--both of which have been linked to higher breast cancer risk in humans. Rat mothers consuming alcohol during pregnancy had higher circulating estrogen levels, and high in utero estrogen levels have been linked to increased breast cancer risk both in humans and rats. The findings in the laboratory animals may be similar to what humans would experience, because the rat model used in the study mimics human breast cancer, Hilakivi-Clarke said.

"It has long been known that there is no 'safe' level of alcohol intake for pregnant women, and that mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy expose their unborn children to a host of medical problems," said Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, PhD, professor of oncology at Lombardi. "Our research adds to the list of reasons not to drink while pregnant."

According to American Cancer Society statistics, more than 203,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and nearly 40,000 women will die of the disease.

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The Lombardi Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center, is a full-service cancer center that includes a strong core of basic science and clinical research, a program of high-priority clinical trials, and a commitment to community service and outreach activities related to cancer prevention and control. Lombardi is one of only 39 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, and the only one in the Washington DC area.

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