Rare Cases of Cancer Passed From Mother to Child Observed in Japan

Tumor cells taken from two young children who developed lung cancer have been linked back to their mothers, according to a report by New Scientist. Researchers at the National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo made the connection as they were sequencing DNA from the tumors for a prospective clinical trial. Both mothers were diagnosed with cervical cancer, one shortly after delivering her child and the other three months after the birth. Analysis of the children’s tumors found genetic mutations ​matching those in their mothers’ cancers. The tumor cells also tested positive for human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer to develop. Transmission of cancer from mother to child is not unheard of but is highly unlikely: Only one in 1,000 live births involve a mother with cancer, and the disease is only thought to be passed on to one child for every 500,000 mothers with cancer who give birth.

Patients With Blood Cancer May Struggle to Mount Immune Response to COVID-19

A collaboration between scientists from King’s College London and the Francis Crick Institute has yielded evidence that people with blood cancers may be less equipped to mount an immune response to COVID-19 compared to people with solid tumors. Blood samples from 76 cancer patients were analyzed and compared with samples taken from people who did not have cancer. Of those 76, 41 had COVID-19: 23 with solid tumors and 18 with blood cancer. The people who had solid tumors made immune responses similar to those in the group without cancer, developing high levels of antibodies and having their immune systems return to normal after recovery from COVID-19. However, responses were more varied among those with blood cancer, presenting as three distinct groups: people similar to patients with solid tumors and without cancer, patients who never developed antibodies and did not clear the virus, and patients who developed antibodies but still did not clear the virus. The study findings could indicate how successfully cancer patients will respond to COVID-19 vaccines. “Many patients despite being on immunosuppressive therapies will respond satisfactorily to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Sheeba Irshad, a medical oncologist and author of the study, in a press release issued by Cancer Research UK, the organization that funded the study. “For patients with blood cancers, especially those with B-cell malignancies, this may not hold true even in the era of COVID-19 vaccines. Our work suggests that they may be susceptible to persistent infection despite developing antibodies, so the next stage of our study will focus on monitoring their response to the vaccines.”

Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination for Cancer Patients

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is a beacon of hope for many who are eager for a return to normal life. But clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, among others, have excluded cancer patients because they may be immunocompromised. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke to Tracey L. Evans, director of thoracic oncology research at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, about how cancer patients receiving active treatment and survivors should approach the COVID-19 vaccines. Evans said that the health risks of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should be “negligible,” whether or not the person is being treated for cancer or has a history of cancer. She did acknowledge that the lack of representation in clinical trials means that we don’t know whether the vaccine will work as well for people with cancer as it has done during the trials. “Still, some protection would be better than none. I would just caution cancer patients getting the vaccine that immunity to the coronavirus may not be guaranteed, and we do need data on effectiveness.”​ 

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