Ask the expert: Fighting cancer in the womb

Folic acid is well known to prevent neural tube defects in the developing foetus

Q: "Will taking folic acid while I'm pregnant just help prevent my baby developing spina bifida, or are there other conditions it may protect against?"

A: Dr Sabrina Tosi, a biosciences lecturer at Brunel University, who has just led a review into studies on folic acid, says: "Folic acid is well known to prevent neural tube defects in the developing foetus and for this reason alone, folic acid supplementation is highly recommended before conception and during the initial stages of pregnancy.

"However, the protective effects of folic acid extend to other organs and tissues in the human body, making sure all cells replicate well and the genetic information is transmitted faithfully during development and organ formation.

"Beside prevention of organ malformations such as spina bifida, folic acid has an important function in tumour prevention. In conditions of folic acid deficiency, individual cells are more exposed to the risk of acquiring genetic abnormalities and if these abnormalities aren't eliminated, they may lead to cancer.

"Although cancer in childhood is rare, it's been shown that some cancers such as infant leukaemia originate in the womb.

"It's at these early stages that folic acid supplementation is crucial, playing an important role in the wellbeing of the new individual both in the short and long term."

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