Prenatal Test May Detect Cancer in Mom

Prenatal tests in pregnant women may reveal cancer markers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Killing two birds with one stone can be a great thing — especially when it comes to prenatal testing.

A new study from Tufts University found cancer in a few pregnant women through prenatal testing of their babies. The primary reason for this testing was to evaluate babies for birth defects — but these tests wound up also finding cancer in some of the mothers.

"If there is cancer, the tumor is shedding DNA into the mother's blood as well and that is what is accounting for this imbalance," said lead study author Diana Bianchi, MD, in an interview with CBS News.

Prenatal testing uses DNA analysis to identify potential birth defects. Prenatal tests are typically used to detect problems such as Down syndrome, which can cause mental retardation.

Prenatal test results include DNA from both the mother and baby. If further testing shows that the baby is healthy, any abnormalities may be then coming from the mother.

Dr. Bianchi and team looked at eight cases where the prenatal test found an abnormality that was traced to the mother. These cases came from more than 120,000 test samples.

In these women, further tests found a diverse group of cancers including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and colorectal cancer.

None of the women had symptoms of cancer at the time of the prenatal screening.

This study was published in the July issue of the journal JAMA.

Illumina (the company that makes the prenatal test) funded this research.

Dr. Bianchi disclosed that she is a paid member of the medical advisory panel for Illumina. Study authors Drs. Chudova, Sehnert, Bhath and Halks-Miller also disclosed being full-time employees of Illumina. Dr. Prosen is a member of the Illumina speakers’ bureau and Dr. Garber disclosed funding from Myriad Genetics.

Review Date: 
July 15, 2015
Last Updated:
July 23, 2015