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    Pregnancy Hormone May Prevent Breast Cancer

    Animal Studies Suggest HCG Could Become Alternative to Tamoxifen

    Early Pregnancy Cuts Breast Cancer Risk continued...

    Breast tissue samples taken before and after the animals took HCG showed that the hormone reduced the number of cells that were dividing. The treatment also stimulated the production of tumor-suppressor genes and decreased the number of cells that had estrogen receptors -- needed to help most breast cancer cells grow. These are all signs that HCG was working just like an anticancer drug, Russo says.

    They checked to see which genes were activated in breast tissue in the rats during pregnancy and compared that data with the changes after treatment with HCG.

    Compared with the untreated virgins, "we found a complete change in the genetic signature of both the pregnant rats and the rats treated with HCG," she says.

    "An early pregnancy modifies the genetic signature for life. And giving HCG modifies the genetic signature for life."

    There was no change in the rats given estrogen and progestin.

    Other Researchers Optimistic

    Russo sees a day in the future when women at high risk of breast cancer can take HCG for a short time during puberty, thereby modifying their genetic signature in such a way as to confer protection for life.

    Timothy Richard Rebbeck, PhD, an expert in molecular epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says the studies "reflect the work of Russo's lab, which is brilliant."

    "The notion of taking a very well-established risk factor like pregnancy that's not really modifiable and taking it to the next step and mimic it to prevent breast cancer is very innovative," he tells WebMD.

    But further studies are needed to determine other factors that may be working in concert with HCG to exert an antitumor effect, he says.

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