Researchers have learned that slight modifications to the genome – epigenetic changes – can be caused by environmental influences, and can be passed down through generations. Pursuing this line of thinking, researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center analyzed mice over generations, finding that when pregnant females consume a diet high in fat derived from common corn oil, there is a significant increase in the risk of breast cancer for three generations of offspring.
The senior author of the report, Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, PhD, a Professor of Oncology at Georgetown Lombardi suggests it’s worth pursuing this research in pregnant women. “It is believed that environmental and life-style factors, such as diet, plays a critical role in increasing human breast cancer risk, and so we use animal models to reveal the biological mechanisms responsible for the increase in risk in women and their female progeny,” Hilakivi-Clarke explained.
High-fat diets have already been connected to an increase in inflammation, and epidemiological studies have determined that inflammation is linked to an increased risk of cancer, she said. Hilakivi-Clarke has previously found that pregnant mice consuming a high fat diet have female pups that experience increased cancer risk. In this work, when pregnant mice changed to a high fat diet during their second trimester, which is when the germ line transmitting genetic material between generations, there is also an increased breast cancer risk in the second generation.