How Preeclampsia Could Help Cure Cancer

This scary condition could have a silver lining.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Aug 2017
Pregnant women sitting on table in hospital gown
Photo: Getty Images/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

It goes without saying nobody wants preeclampsia. While most moms-to-be who develop this condition, characterized by high blood pressure, have totally healthy babies, it can lead to some scary complications if left untreated, from premature labor to seizures. Still, we want to reinforce that a preeclampsia diagnosis is not the end of the world. In fact, a new study may have identified one positive long term side effect for moms: a lower risk of breast cancer. A significantly lower risk.

Part of the California Teachers Study, this new research shows that women with a history of preeclampsia have a 74 percent lower risk of the most common type of breast cancer if they carry a specific common gene variant (specifically, two T alleles of a variant of the IGF1R gene). And if these women had preeclampsia before the age of 30, it jumps to a 90 percent lower risk.

“This research could contribute to understanding the key impact of pregnancy on breast cancer risk, and may help explain why some women are protected while others are not,” lead researcher Mark Powell, MD, MPH, says.

Powell explains that for women with this gene variant, the high blood pressure that causes preeclampsia also causes hormonal changes. One result? Protective breast tissue.

Now, research groups are collaborating with Powell and his team to get to the bottom of exactly what’s causing this protective effect. The hope is that will help them develop new breast cancer-prevention strategies.

We’ll go out on a limb here: preeclampsia is helping cure cancer.

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