Can Your Diet Can Give Your Daughter Breast Cancer? New Study Says Yes

By Amir Khan on September 13, 2012 9:30 AM EDT

Breast Cancer
Pregnant women who eat unhealthy and overly fatty foods when pregnant may be increasing the risk that their daughters and granddaughters develop breast cancer, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Pregnant women who eat unhealthy and overly fatty foods when pregnant may be increasing the risk that their daughters and granddaughters develop breast cancer, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature Communications. The study, performed in mice, found that mothers who had a high-fat diet had daughters and granddaughters that were significantly more likely to develop breast cancer as compared to mice given a normal diet.

"What a mother eats or is exposed to during pregnancy can increase her daughter's breast cancer risk. What we found for the first time is that increased breast risk of those daughters can be passed down to grand-daughters and even great-grand daughters and that is without any further exposures," Dr Sonia de Assis, study author, told the Daily Mail. "This study is important because it may help our understanding of the origins of some breast cancers."

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After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Over 200,000 women are diagnosed with the disease annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

Fatty diets are linked to higher levels of the female sex hormone estrogen, which researchers think is responsible for the increased cancer risk. Researchers said the estrogen can affect which genes are switched on or off during pregnancy and could lead to the increased cancer risk.

"It is becoming clear that the process of epigenetic signaling-which genes are expressed and which genes are silenced-is being affected by a mother's hormonal environment during pregnancy," Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement.

These changes could be passed down, researchers said.

"Changes in the code may be inherited from generation to generation, so perhaps breast cancer risk is also inherited from generation to generation," they wrote in the study.

The researchers recommend that expectant mothers don't "eat for two," and advise them to avoid junk food and instead reach for fruits and vegetables, regardless of cravings. And while there is still more work to be done to establish a concrete link between a high-fat diet and breast cancer, experts said the advice still rings true.

'This study was carried out in rats, so we can't say whether similar effects could be seen in people," Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, told the Daily Mail." But studies like this can give us hints about what's going on behind the scenes when cancer develops. For now, we don't know whether a woman's diet during pregnancy can affect her daughters' risk of breast cancer, but women can take steps to reduce their risk of the disease by keeping a healthy weight, cutting back on alcohol and having a more active lifestyle."

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