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Breast Cancer Res. 2008;10(1):R14. doi: 10.1186/bcr1860. Epub 2008 Feb 13.

Breast cancer stroma frequently recruits fetal derived cells during pregnancy.

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  • 1Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris VI, EA 4053. Laboratoire de Physiopathologie du développement. 184 r Fbg St Antoine 75012 Paris, France.



Breast carcinomas associated with pregnancy display a high frequency of inflammatory types, multifocal lesions and lymph node metastasis. Because pregnancy results in transfer to mothers of foetal stem cells that can migrate and differentiate into various tissues, we addressed the issue of whether such cells are present in breast carcinoma associated with pregnancy.


We analyzed women presenting with such tumours who were pregnant with male foetuses using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), targeting X and Y chromosomes. The foetal cell phenotype was then determined by combining FISH and immunohistochemistry with various antibodies. Statistical analysis was performed using t-test or nonparametric Wilcoxon's test.


We found that foetal cells were present in nine out of 10 carcinomas, in contrast with none of four benign mammary lesions (P < 0.05). Counting foetal and maternal cells showed that the mean number of foetal cells per million maternal cells was 36 in breast cancers and 0 in control samples (P < 0.01). By combining FISH and immunolabelling, we found that foetal cells expressed mainly mesenchymal or, to a lesser degree, epithelial or endothelial markers, but never leucocytes.


These findings demonstrate the frequent presence of foetal derived cells essentially in tumour stroma. Given the role played by stroma in tumour proliferation, these findings raise the issue of whether foetal cell can be targeted to influence tumour behaviour.

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