Prenatal Genetic Testing May Detect Some Early-Stage Cancer in Expecting Mamas

A while back, I wrote here about how some pregnant women were learning something truly unexpected and troubling after undergoing certain prenatal genetic tests: that they had cancer.

Now, a new study published in the journal JAMA Oncology points again to how genetic testing of fetuses can discover cancer in expecting mamas—and discover it very early, which may save lives.

Normally, a pregnant mama would undergo noninvasive prenatal testing (known as NIPT for short) to find out whether her baby-on-the-way is likely to have a chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome. It analyzes the DNA from the fetus, which is found in the mother's own blood stream.

According to HealthDay, when Belgian researchers who were trying to make NIPT more accurate and more comprehensive were testing their work, they found genetic abnormalities in three pregnant women—but couldn't find a link between them and the genetic profiles of either the pregnant moms or the babies. Eventually, they realized that what they were seeing was likely cancer. And as it turns out, the women were all diagnosed various forms of early-stage cancer: ovarian, follicular lymphoma, and Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Two were treated, and the third didn't require any treatment at the time.)

"Considering the bad prognosis of some cancers when detected later, and given that we know that it is both possible and safe to treat the disease during pregnancy, this is an important added advantage of NIPT," said Belgian principal investigator Joris Vermeesch in a news release.

In the future, the tests might even be used as a diagnostic tool among people who aren't pregnant.

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Alesandra Dubin is a new twin mom. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.

Photo: Shutterstock

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