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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 00:45 GMT
Pregnancy disorder link to cancer
Pregnant woman
Pre-eclampsia is rare but life threatening
Women with a history of the pregnancy disorder pre-eclampsia are at greater risk of cancer, research suggests.

The chance of developing breast cancer is "significantly" increased, the study shows.

Research by the Hadassah-Hebrew University in Jerusalem also indicates a greater risk of stomach, ovary, lung and larynx cancer.

A report in the BMJ also suggests environmental and genetic factors may influence pre-eclampsia and cancer.

The study, which found a link to specific cancers, looked at 37,000 women delivering babies in three large hospitals in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976.

They compared the risk of cancer in those who had experienced pre-eclampsia, with those who had not.

They also looked at the link between social class and other factors including ethnic origin, religion and diabetes on pre-eclampsia - a life-threatening condition which affects about 5-8% of all pregnancies.

It is characterised by a sharp rise in blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine and occurs in the last three months of pregnancy.

The study revealed that nearly 2,300 women developed cancer for the first time, including 978 (42.6%) of the breast.

'Significant' risk

Pre-eclampsia was recorded in 1,070 women from the study and of these, 40 or 3.7% developed breast cancer.

This compares to 938 or 2.6% of women who got breast cancer among the 36,000 women who did not have pre-eclampsia.

The research team in Israel concluded the risk of breast cancer was "significantly" increased for pre-eclamptic women.

Only a third of the Jerusalem study group originated in Europe - the others were from the Middle East, north Africa, other Western countries and the Americas.

It is believed that in general breast cancer rates are higher among Western women.

The Israeli study also found the risk of cancers of the stomach, ovary, lung and larynx were increased.

The women were followed-up for an average of 29 years.

Genetic link

The study also discovered that West Asian women were more likely to have pre-eclampsia as were those from a lower social class and those with gestational diabetes - the type which occurs during pregnancy.

Dr Simon Vincent of Cancer Research UK said the results of the study were interesting.

"There are likely to be many factors to do with our environment and our health that might increase our risk of developing cancer," he said.

"We already know of some of these factors thanks to research projects, like this one, that look at large numbers of people over a long period of time.

"There are several very large studies, following women over several years, which are currently running in the UK and elsewhere.

"It will be interesting to see if these researchers see the same effects of pre-eclampsia as this study has demonstrated in Israel."

Some, but not all, previous studies have shown a protective effect of pre-eclampsia on breast cancer, although such research has been carried out mainly in northern Europe and North American populations.

The research team suggests there may be a genetic link to both pre-eclampsia and cancer.

They also claim that diet, insulin resistance, smoking or patterns of infection may affect the development of both cancer and pre-eclampsia and their effects may differ between populations.

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