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Pregnancy Disorder may Protect Women Against Breast Cancer

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Preclampsia, a serious high blood pressure syndrome that only occurs during pregnancy, may paradoxically reduce the incidence of developing breast cancer in women who develop it, a University of Minnesota Medical School researcher has found.

Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year, affecting at least five percent of all pregnancies, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation.

Preeclampsia typically occurs after 20 weeks gestation when the blood supply in the placenta of the developing baby becomes restricted. It is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms. The disorder can force babies to be born premature to protect the life of the mother and child.

Anne Gingery of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth has investigated how specific factors released from the placenta of women with preeclampsia inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. She is presenting her findings at the 2010 Experimental Biology meeting in Anaheim, CA, April 24-28, 2010.

Dr. Gingery's research restricts the blood flow of rats' placentas with clips to induce preeclampsia. In rats and humans, the placenta has many blood vessels, so the factors released during preeclampsia end up in the blood stream. The serum – what is left after the cells are filtered out of the blood – of these animals possesses anti-cancer properties.

Gingery tested an array of breast cancer cells treated with the serum that resulted in decreased growth of cancer cells.

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