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Morning Sickness and Breast Cancer?

This is the weird correlation of the week: women who suffer with symptoms of morning sickness during their pregnancies may be less likely to develop breast cancer later on in life.  A group of epidemiologists in Buffalo recently reported this finding at a scientific meeting (Society for Epidemiologic Research).  No one is sure what this means, and I dare not speculate… but perhaps there’s some kind of link between a woman’s hormone levels produced during pregnancy, the nausea they cause, and the hormonal milieu that is the background for breast cancer?  Or maybe this study has turned up a false association.  Only time – and a lot more research – will tell.  Of course, if anyone should speculate on this, it’s the breast cancer oncologists like Dr. Gluck.  So I dropped him an email to ask him what he thinks.

Dr. Gluck said that first of all, the association between morning sickness and decreased breast cancer risk is relatively weak.  So here’s what the numbers mean: For the average 50 year old woman, the standard risk for developing breast cancer is about 2% (one in
50). According to this study, that same woman (if she had severe morning sickness at some point during pregnancy), is about 1.4%  (~30%

Dr. Gluck speculates (and this is quite fascinating) that women with morning sickness are subjected to a hormonal milieu that may result in permanent alterations in their breast tissue.  The breast tissue (having been exposed to surges of hormones, insulin, and changing blood pressure and blood sugar levels) might be less vulnerable to the genetic mutations that cause cancer.

We’ve known for a long time that women who have children are at lower risk for breast cancer than women who don’t… now it seems that there might be something about women who are really sick when they’re pregnant and decreased risk of breast cancer as well.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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