Results of a US study suggest that a mother's diet during pregnancy may affect her child's risk of developing cancer in later life.
Lead researcher Dr David Williams, from Oregon State University in Corvallis, and his team explain that few previous studies have examined the effects of maternal diet during pregnancy on cancer risk in offspring.
To help address this, the researchers fed one group of pregnant mice supplements that contained "phytochemicals". These phytochemicals are thought to have anti-cancer properties and can be obtained from any normal human diet that is rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Another group of mice that were not fed the supplements were also included in the study.
The researchers then exposed all the animals to a cancer causing substance and found that around 80% of the offspring born to mice that did not receive the supplements died of aggressive T-cell lymphoma. Of those that survived into the mouse-equivalent of middle age, 100% had lung tumours.
In comparison, just 40% of the offspring born to mice given the supplement died of lymphoma and the incidence of lung tumours in later life was also significantly lower.
"It's clear that in mice this supplement provided significant protection against lymphoma and, later on, lung cancer," said Dr Williams.
He added: "It's also worth noting that none of the infant mice received the protective supplement later in their life, at any stage beyond breast feeding. The protective effect of the compound came solely from maternal intake during pregnancy and nursing, but lasted into the animal's middle age. This is somewhat remarkable."
Writing in the journal Carcinogenesis, Dr Williams and team conclude: "Addition of chemoprotective [cancer protective] agents to the maternal diet during pregnancy and nursing may be an effective new approach in reducing the incidence of cancers in children and young adults."