In Japan, two infants who were born to mothers with cervical cancer may have developed lung cancer. Researchers at the National Cancer Center in Japan, believe that the newborns ingested amniotic fluid containing cancer cells as they passed through the birth canal. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 7, 2021.
The researchers have been stressing the importance of using human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines to prevent cervical cancer. The two boys were confirmed to have acquired cervical cancer from their mothers, and cancer was discovered in their lungs when they were 23 months old and 6 years old, respectively. About 1 in 1,000 babies are born to mothers who have cancer, but only about one in 500,000 of these newborns develops cancer from their mother. Though these cases are very rare, researchers had known that the transfer can happen if cancer cells, traveling in the mother’s blood, get into the placenta.
The mother of the 23-month-old boy was diagnosed with cervical cancer three months after the boy was born but likely had a tumor at the time of his birth. The boy and the mother were treated with chemotherapy, different medications, and surgeries to remove cancerous tissue; and while the boy’s cancer disappeared, the mother’s progressed and led to her death five months later.
The mother of the 6-year-old boy had a known cervical tumor during her pregnancy but one that was thought to be stable and so wasn’t treated at the time, according to the report. After delivery, a biopsy revealed she had cervical cancer; she died two years after surgery to remove the tumor. The boy underwent chemotherapy among other treatments and had his left lung removed; he was followed for 15 months after his surgery and remained cancer-free, according to the report.