Women born after pre-eclamptic pregnancies have been reported to be at reduced risk of breast cancer as adults, because of reduced intrauterine oestrogen influence on breast tissue; high levels of alpha-foetoprotein (a glycoprotein with anti-oestrogenic properties), however, could also be important. In severe pre-eclampsia, placental function and foetal growth are reduced, and umbilical cord plasma levels of alpha-foetoprotein could reflect the underlying processes. Umbilical cord blood was collected in 12804 consecutive deliveries. Among 307 pregnancies with clinical pre-eclampsia, 66 singleton pregnancies were identified as clinically severe, and 610 singleton pregnancies were selected as controls. Oestradiol and alpha-foetoprotein were measured from umbilical plasma, and birth weight was standardized as the ratio between the observed and expected birth weight, adjusted for differences in gestation length and offspring sex. Cord plasma levels of alpha-foetoprotein were significantly higher in severe pre-eclampsia than controls (P<0.01) after adjustment for gestational age and birth weight. For oestradiol, there was no difference in cord plasma levels between the severe pre-eclampsia group and controls, after adjustment for length of gestation and birth weight. These results suggest that an anti-oestrogenic effect associated with pre-eclampsia may be mediated through high levels of alpha-foetoprotein rather than low levels of oestradiol.
Copyright 2002 Cancer Research UK