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1.  Birth Size and Breast Cancer Risk: Re-analysis of Individual Participant Data from 32 Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(9):e193.
Background
Birth size, perhaps a proxy for prenatal environment, might be a correlate of subsequent breast cancer risk, but findings from epidemiological studies have been inconsistent. We re-analysed individual participant data from published and unpublished studies to obtain more precise estimates of the magnitude and shape of the birth size–breast cancer association.
Methods and Findings
Studies were identified through computer-assisted and manual searches, and personal communication with investigators. Individual participant data from 32 studies, comprising 22,058 breast cancer cases, were obtained. Random effect models were used, if appropriate, to combine study-specific estimates of effect. Birth weight was positively associated with breast cancer risk in studies based on birth records (pooled relative risk [RR] per one standard deviation [SD] [= 0.5 kg] increment in birth weight: 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–1.09) and parental recall when the participants were children (1.02; 95% CI 0.99–1.05), but not in those based on adult self-reports, or maternal recall during the woman's adulthood (0.98; 95% CI 0.95–1.01) (p for heterogeneity between data sources = 0.003). Relative to women who weighed 3.000–3.499 kg, the risk was 0.96 (CI 0.80–1.16) in those who weighed < 2.500 kg, and 1.12 (95% CI 1.00–1.25) in those who weighed ≥ 4.000 kg (p for linear trend = 0.001) in birth record data. Birth length and head circumference from birth records were also positively associated with breast cancer risk (pooled RR per one SD increment: 1.06 [95% CI 1.03–1.10] and 1.09 [95% CI 1.03–1.15], respectively). Simultaneous adjustment for these three birth size variables showed that length was the strongest independent predictor of risk. The birth size effects did not appear to be confounded or mediated by established breast cancer risk factors and were not modified by age or menopausal status. The cumulative incidence of breast cancer per 100 women by age 80 y in the study populations was estimated to be 10.0, 10.0, 10.4, and 11.5 in those who were, respectively, in the bottom, second, third, and top fourths of the birth length distribution.
Conclusions
This pooled analysis of individual participant data is consistent with birth size, and in particular birth length, being an independent correlate of breast cancer risk in adulthood.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Last year, more than one million women discovered that they had breast cancer. In the US, nearly 200,000 women will face the same diagnosis this year and 40,000 will die because of breast cancer. Put another way, about one in eight US women will have breast cancer during her lifetime. Like all cancers, breast cancer begins when cells acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). This uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual examination of the breasts. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and other treatments designed to kill any remaining cancer cells. Unlike some cancers, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Scientists have identified several factors that increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by comparing the characteristics of populations of women with and without breast cancer. Well-established risk factors include increasing age, not having children, and having a late menopause, but another potential risk factor for breast cancer is birth size. A baby's weight, length, and head circumference at birth (three related measures of birth size) depend on the levels of hormones (including estrogen, a hormone that often affects breast cancer growth) and other biological factors to which the baby is exposed during pregnancy—its prenatal environment. The idea that prenatal environment might also affect breast cancer risk in later life was first proposed in 1990, but the findings of studies that have tried to investigate this possibility have been inconsistent. Here, the researchers re-analyze individual participant data from a large number of studies into women's health conducted in Europe, Northern America, and China to get more precise information about the association between birth size and breast cancer risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 32 published and unpublished studies that had collected information on birth size and on the occurrence of breast cancer. They then obtained the individual participant data from these studies, which involved more than 22,000 women who had developed breast cancer and more than 600,000 women who had not. Their analyses of these data show that birth weight was positively associated with breast cancer risk in those studies where this measurement was recorded at birth or based on parental recall during the study participant's childhood (but not in those studies in which birth weight was self-reported or maternally recalled during the participant's adulthood). For example, women with recorded birth weights of more than 4 kg or more had a 12% higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who weighed 3–3.5 kg at birth. Birth length and head circumference were also positively associated with breast cancer risk, but birth length was the strongest single predictor of risk. Finally, the amount by which birth size affected breast cancer risk was not affected by allowing for other established risk factors.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide strong evidence that birth size—in particular, birth length—is a marker of a woman's breast cancer risk in adulthood although the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. The researchers note that the observed effect of birth size on breast cancer risk is of a similar magnitude to that of other more established risk factors and estimate that 5% of all breast cancers in developed countries could be caused by a high birth size. Because practically all the studies included in this pooled analysis were done in developed countries, these findings may not hold for developing countries. Further investigations into how the prenatal environment may affect breast cancer risk might identify new ways to prevent this increasingly common cancer.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050193.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Trichopoulos and Lagiou
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on risk factors for breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; Medline Plus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity Cancerbackup also provides detailed information about breast cancer
Cancer Research UK is the UK's leading charity dedicated to cancer research
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050193
PMCID: PMC2553821  PMID: 18828667
2.  The APPLe Study: A Randomized, Community-Based, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Azithromycin for the Prevention of Preterm Birth, with Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000191.
In a randomized trial in Malawi of azithromycin versus placebo in over 2,000 pregnant women, Jim Neilson and colleagues show no benefit of azithromycin for a number of outcomes including preterm birth and prenatal death.
Background
Premature birth is the major cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity in both high- and low-income countries. The causes of preterm labour are multiple but infection is important. We have previously described an unusually high incidence of preterm birth (20%) in an ultrasound-dated, rural, pregnant population in Southern Malawi with high burdens of infective morbidity. We have now studied the impact of routine prophylaxis with azithromycin as directly observed, single-dose therapy at two gestational windows to try to decrease the incidence of preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
We randomized 2,297 pregnant women attending three rural and one peri-urban health centres in Southern Malawi to a placebo-controlled trial of oral azithromycin (1 g) given at 16–24 and 28–32 wk gestation. Gestational age was determined by ultrasound before 24 wk. Women and their infants were followed up until 6 wk post delivery. The primary outcome was incidence of preterm delivery, defined as <37 wk. Secondary outcomes were mean gestational age at delivery, perinatal mortality, birthweight, maternal malaria, and anaemia. Analysis was by intention to treat. There were no significant differences in outcome between the azithromycin group (n = 1,096) and the placebo group (n = 1,087) in respect of preterm birth (16.8% versus 17.4%), odds ratio (OR) 0.96, 95% confidence interval (0.76–1.21); mean gestational age at delivery (38.5 versus 38.4 weeks), mean difference 0.16 (−0.08 to 0.40); mean birthweight (3.03 versus 2.99 kg), mean difference 0.04 (−0.005 to 0.08); perinatal deaths (4.3% versus 5.0%), OR 0.85 (0.53–1.38); or maternal malarial parasitaemia (11.5% versus 10.1%), OR 1.11 (0.84–1.49) and anaemia (44.1% versus 41.3%) at 28–32 weeks, OR 1.07 (0.88–1.30). Meta-analysis of the primary outcome results with seven other studies of routine antibiotic prophylaxis in pregnancy (>6,200 pregnancies) shows no effect on preterm birth (relative risk 1.02, 95% confidence interval 0.86–1.22).
Conclusions
This study provides no support for the use of antibiotics as routine prophylaxis to prevent preterm birth in high risk populations; prevention of preterm birth requires alternative strategies.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN84023116
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks. Labor that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother) is defined as a preterm birth. In industrialized countries, 5%–10% of all births are preterm. Figures for preterm births are harder to obtain for low-income countries because of uncertainties about gestational dates but, in both rich and poor countries, preterm birth is a major cause of infant death and illness around the time of birth. Babies who are born prematurely also often have long-term health problems and disabilities. There are many reasons why some babies are born prematurely. Structural problems such as a weak cervix (the neck of the womb, which dilates during labor to allow the baby to leave the mother's body) can result in a premature delivery, as can pregnancy-induced diabetes, blood-clotting disorders, bacterial infections in the vagina or the womb, and malaria. However, it is impossible to predict which mothers will spontaneously deliver early.
Why Was This Study Done?
At present there is no effective way to prevent premature births. Because infection is often associated with preterm labor and can occur early in pregnancy but remain undetected, one way to reduce the incidence of preterm births may be to give pregnant women antibiotics even when they have no obvious infection (prophylactic antibiotics). In this study, the researchers test this hypothesis by giving the antibiotic azithromycin to pregnant women living in Southern Malawi in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. One baby in five is born before 37 weeks gestation in Southern Malawi and the women living in this part of sub-Saharan Africa have a high burden of infection. Azithromycin is a safe antibiotic that can treat many of the bacterial infections that have been implicated in preterm birth. It also has some antimalarial activity. In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, participants are randomly assigned to receive a drug or identical-looking “dummy” tablets (placebo).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled more than 2,000 pregnant women into the APPLe study (Azithromycin for the Prevention of Preterm Labor) and determined the gestational age of their unborn babies using ultrasound. Half of the women were given an oral dose of azithromycin at 16–24 weeks and at 28–32 weeks gestation. The remaining women were given a placebo at similar times. The mothers and their babies were followed up until 6 weeks after delivery. There was no significant difference in the primary outcome of the study—the incidence of delivery before 37 weeks gestation—between the two groups of women. Secondary outcomes—including mean gestational age at delivery, mean birth weight, and still births and infant deaths within a week of birth—were also similar in the two groups of women. Finally, the researchers did a meta-analysis (a statistical technique that combines the results of several studies) of their study and seven published studies of routine antibiotic prophylaxis in pregnancy, which indicated that the prophylactic use of antibiotics did not alter the risk of preterm birth.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide no support for the use of antibiotics as prophylaxis to prevent preterm birth. The women included in this study had an unusually high incidence of preterm delivery and a high burden of infection so these findings may not be generalizable. The results of the meta-analysis, however, also provide no support for prophylactic antibiotics. Given that observational data have associated infection with preterm labor, why are the results of the APPLe trial and the meta-analysis negative? One possibility is that different antibiotics or dosing regimens might be more effective. Another possibility is that infection might be a secondary consequence of some other condition that causes preterm birth rather than the primary cause of early delivery. Whatever the reason for the lack of effect of prophylactic antibiotics, the researchers recommend that pregnant women should not be given antibiotics prophylactically to prevent preterm birth particularly since, in a recent study, the babies of women given antibiotics to halt ongoing preterm labor had an increased risk of developmental problems.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000191.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
Tommy's is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on maternal and infant health (in English and Spanish)
The US National Women's Health Information Center has detailed information about pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000191
PMCID: PMC2776277  PMID: 19956761
3.  Predicting Live Birth, Preterm Delivery, and Low Birth Weight in Infants Born from In Vitro Fertilisation: A Prospective Study of 144,018 Treatment Cycles 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000386.
Using the HFEA database of all 144,018 live births in all IVF cycles in the UK between 2003 and 2007, Scott Nelson and Debbie Lawlor show that couple- and treatment-specific factors can be used to help predict successful outcome following IVF.
Background
The extent to which baseline couple characteristics affect the probability of live birth and adverse perinatal outcomes after assisted conception is unknown.
Methods and Findings
We utilised the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority database to examine the predictors of live birth in all in vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycles undertaken in the UK between 2003 and 2007 (n = 144,018). We examined the potential clinical utility of a validated model that pre-dated the introduction of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) as compared to a novel model. For those treatment cycles that resulted in a live singleton birth (n = 24,226), we determined the associates of potential risk factors with preterm birth, low birth weight, and macrosomia. The overall rate of at least one live birth was 23.4 per 100 cycles (95% confidence interval [CI] 23.2–23.7). In multivariable models the odds of at least one live birth decreased with increasing maternal age, increasing duration of infertility, a greater number of previously unsuccessful IVF treatments, use of own oocytes, necessity for a second or third treatment cycle, or if it was not unexplained infertility. The association of own versus donor oocyte with reduced odds of live birth strengthened with increasing age of the mother. A previous IVF live birth increased the odds of future success (OR 1.58, 95% CI 1.46–1.71) more than that of a previous spontaneous live birth (OR 1.19, 95% CI 0.99–1.24); p-value for difference in estimate <0.001. Use of ICSI increased the odds of live birth, and male causes of infertility were associated with reduced odds of live birth only in couples who had not received ICSI. Prediction of live birth was feasible with moderate discrimination and excellent calibration; calibration was markedly improved in the novel compared to the established model. Preterm birth and low birth weight were increased if oocyte donation was required and ICSI was not used. Risk of macrosomia increased with advancing maternal age and a history of previous live births. Infertility due to cervical problems was associated with increased odds of all three outcomes—preterm birth, low birth weight, and macrosomia.
Conclusions
Pending external validation, our results show that couple- and treatment-specific factors can be used to provide infertile couples with an accurate assessment of whether they have low or high risk of a successful outcome following IVF.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, more than 10% of couples are infertile. Sometimes there is no obvious reason for a couple's inability to have children but, for many couples, problems with their eggs or sperm prevent “fertilization”—the union of an egg and a sperm that leads, eventually, to the birth of a baby. Until recently, little could be done to help infertile couples. Then, on the 25 July 1978, the world's first “test-tube baby” was born. Since then, 4 million babies have been born through in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, mature eggs are collected from the woman (or from an egg donor if the woman cannot make her own eggs) after a course of special hormones, and they are mixed in a dish with her partner's sperm. If her partner has a low sperm count or abnormal sperm, a single sperm can be injected directly into the egg in a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which became widely available in the mid 1990s, or sperm from a donor can be used. Finally, a number (depending on the country) of embryos (eggs that have begun to divide and develop) are put back into the woman where, hopefully, they will establish a successful pregnancy.
Why Was This Study Done?
Not every attempt at IVF is successful. In the US and the UK, IVF is successful in about a third of women under 35 years old but in only 5%–10% of women over the age of 40. It would be useful to have a way to predict the likelihood of a live birth after IVF for individual couples. Such a “prediction model” would facilitate patient counseling, clinical decision making, and the allocation of IVF resources. In this study, the researchers use information on IVF cycles collected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates IVF in the UK, to assess the extent to which the characteristics of infertile couples and the treatment they receive can be used to predict live birth after IVF. They also use these data to identify which factors are associated with preterm delivery, low birthweight, and macrosomia (the birth of an unusually large baby), three undesirable birth characteristics.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 2003 and 2007, 163,425 IVF cycles were completed in the UK, 23.4% of which resulted in at least one live birth. The researchers used the data collected by the HFEA on 144,018 of these cycles (the other cycles had missing data) to develop a multivariable logistic regression prediction model (a type of statistical model) for the outcome of IVF. According to this model, a decreased chance of at least one live birth was associated with several factors including increasing maternal age, increasing duration of infertility, and the use of the woman's own oocytes. By contrast, a previous IVF live birth and the use of ICSI were associated with increased chances of success. Importantly, compared with an established multivariable prediction model, which was developed before the introduction of ICSI, the researchers' new prediction model predicted the chance of a live birth following IVF with greater accuracy. Finally, the researchers report that the chances of preterm and low birthweight after IVF were increased if donor eggs were required and ICSI was not used, that an increased risk of macrosomia was associated with increasing maternal age and with a history of previous live births, and that all three undesirable birth characteristics were associated with infertility due to cervical problems.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that couple- and treatment-specific factors can be used to provide infertile couples with an accurate assessment of whether they have a low or high chance of a successful outcome following IVF. The prediction model developed here provides a more accurate assessment of likely outcomes after IVF than a previously established model. Furthermore, because the new model considers the effect of ICSI on outcomes, it should be more useful in contemporary populations than the established model, which does not consider ICSI. However, before this new prediction model is used to guide clinical decisions and to counsel patients, it needs to be validated using independent IVF data. To facilitate the external validation of their model, the researchers are currently generating a free web-based prediction tool and iPhone application (IVFpredict).
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000386.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority provides information on IVF and IVF statistics for the UK
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients on infertility and on IVF
The American Pregnancy Association has information for patients on infertility and on IVF
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on infertility and IVF (in English and Spanish)
The history of the development of IVF is described on the Nobel Prize website
The prediction tool that was used in this study is at http://www.IVFpredict.com
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000386
PMCID: PMC3014925  PMID: 21245905
4.  The Effect of Changing Patterns of Obstetric Care in Scotland (1980–2004) on Rates of Preterm Birth and Its Neonatal Consequences: Perinatal Database Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(9):e1000153.
Jane Norman and colleagues analyzed linked perinatal surveillance data in Scotland and find that between 1980 and 2004 increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births contributed equally to the rising rate of preterm births.
Background
Rates of preterm birth are rising worldwide. Studies from the United States and Latin America suggest that much of this rise relates to increased rates of medically indicated preterm birth. In contrast, European and Australian data suggest that increases in spontaneous preterm labour also play a role. We aimed, in a population-based database of 5 million people, to determine the temporal trends and obstetric antecedents of singleton preterm birth and its associated neonatal mortality and morbidity for the period 1980–2004.
Methods and Findings
There were 1.49 million births in Scotland over the study period, of which 5.8% were preterm. We found a percentage increase in crude rates of both spontaneous preterm birth per 1,000 singleton births (10.7%, p<0.01) and medically indicated preterm births (41.2%, p<0.01), which persisted when adjusted for maternal age at delivery. The greater proportion of spontaneous preterm births meant that the absolute increase in rates of preterm birth in each category were similar. Of specific maternal complications, essential and pregnancy-induced hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and placenta praevia played a decreasing role in preterm birth over the study period, with gestational and pre-existing diabetes playing an increasing role. There was a decline in stillbirth, neonatal, and extended perinatal mortality associated with preterm birth at all gestation over the study period but an increase in the rate of prolonged hospital stay for the neonate. Neonatal mortality improved in all subgroups, regardless of obstetric antecedent of preterm birth or gestational age. In the 28 wk and greater gestational groups we found a reduction in stillbirths and extended perinatal mortality for medically induced but not spontaneous preterm births (in the absence of maternal complications) although at the expense of a longer stay in neonatal intensive care. This improvement in stillbirth and neonatal mortality supports the decision making behind the 34% increase in elective/induced preterm birth in these women. Although improvements in neonatal outcomes overall are welcome, preterm birth still accounts for over 66% of singleton stillbirths, 65% of singleton neonatal deaths, and 67% of infants whose stay in the neonatal unit is “prolonged,” suggesting this condition remains a significant contributor to perinatal mortality and morbidity.
Conclusions
In our population, increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births have made equal contributions to the rising rate of preterm birth. Despite improvements in related perinatal mortality, preterm birth remains a major obstetric and neonatal problem, and its frequency is increasing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks but increasing numbers of babies are being born preterm, before they reach 37 weeks of gestation (gestation is the period during which a baby develops in its mother). Nowadays in the US, for example, more than half a million babies arrive earlier than expected every year (1 in 8 babies). Although improvements in the care of newborn babies (neonatal care) mean that preterm babies are more likely to survive than in the past, preterm birth remains the single biggest cause of infant death in many developed countries, and many preterm babies who survive have long-term health problems and disabilities, particularly those born before 32 weeks of gestation. Preterm births can be spontaneous or medically induced. At present, it impossible to predict which mothers will spontaneously deliver early and there is no effective way to prevent these preterm births; medically induced early labor is undertaken when either the unborn baby or mother would be at risk if the pregnancy continued to full term.
Why Was This Study Done?
Preterm birth rates need to be reduced, but before this can be done it is important to know how the causes of preterm birth, the numbers of preterm stillbirths, and the numbers of preterm babies who die at birth (neonatal deaths) or soon after (perinatal deaths) are changing with time. If, for example, the rise in preterm births is mainly due to an increase in medically induced labor and if this change in practice has reduced neonatal deaths, it would be unwise to try to reduce the preterm birth rate by discouraging medically induced preterm births. So far, data from the US and Latin America suggest that the increase in preterm births in these countries is solely due to increased rates of medically induced preterm births. However, in Europe and Australia, the rate of spontaneous preterm births also seems to be increasing. In this study, the researchers examine the trends over time and causes of preterm birth and of neonatal death and illness in Scotland over a 25-year period.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
By searching a Scottish database of linked maternity records and infant health and death records, the researchers identified 1.49 million singleton births that occurred between 1980 and 2004 of which nearly 90,000 were preterm births. Over the study period, the rates of spontaneous and of medically induced preterm births per 1,000 births increased by 10.7% and 41.2%, respectively, but because there were more spontaneous preterm births than medically induced preterm births, the absolute increase in the rates of each type of birth was similar. Several maternal complications including preeclampsia (a condition that causes high blood pressure) and placenta previa (covering of the opening of the cervix by the placenta) played a decreasing role in preterm births over the study period, whereas gestational and preexisting diabetes played an increasing role. Finally, there was a decline in stillbirths and in neonatal and perinatal deaths among preterm babies, although more babies remained in the hospital longer than 7 days after birth. More specifically, after 28 weeks of gestation, stillbirths and perinatal deaths decreased among medically induced preterm births but not among spontaneous preterm births.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that in Scotland between 1980 and 2004, increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births contributed equally to the rising rate of preterm births. Importantly, they also show that the increase in induced preterm births helped to reduce stillbirths and neonatal and perinatal deaths, a finding that supports the criteria that clinicians currently use to decide whether to induce an early birth. Nevertheless, preterm births still account for two-thirds of all stillbirths, neonatal deaths, and extended neonatal stays in hospital and thus cause considerable suffering and greatly increase the workload in neonatal units. The rates of such births consequently need to be reduced and, for Scotland at least, ways will have to be found to reduce the rates of both spontaneous and induced preterm births to achieve this goal while continuing to identify those sick babies who need to be delivered early to give them the best chance of survival.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000153
Tommys is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on maternal and infant health (in English and Spanish)
The US National Women's Health Information Center has detailed information about pregnancy, including a section on pregnancy complications
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies and to information on pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000153
PMCID: PMC2740823  PMID: 19771156
5.  Pregnancy and Infant Outcomes among HIV-Infected Women Taking Long-Term ART with and without Tenofovir in the DART Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(5):e1001217.
Diana Gibb and colleagues investigate the effect of in utero tenofovir exposure by analyzing the pregnancy and infant outcomes of HIV-infected women enrolled in the DART trial.
Background
Few data have described long-term outcomes for infants born to HIV-infected African women taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) in pregnancy. This is particularly true for World Health Organization (WHO)–recommended tenofovir-containing first-line regimens, which are increasingly used and known to cause renal and bone toxicities; concerns have been raised about potential toxicity in babies due to in utero tenofovir exposure.
Methods and Findings
Pregnancy outcome and maternal/infant ART were collected in Ugandan/Zimbabwean HIV-infected women initiating ART during The Development of AntiRetroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) trial, which compared routine laboratory monitoring (CD4; toxicity) versus clinically driven monitoring. Women were followed 15 January 2003 to 28 September 2009. Infant feeding, clinical status, and biochemistry/haematology results were collected in a separate infant study. Effect of in utero ART exposure on infant growth was analysed using random effects models.
382 pregnancies occurred in 302/1,867 (16%) women (4.4/100 woman-years [95% CI 4.0–4.9]). 226/390 (58%) outcomes were live-births, 27 (7%) stillbirths (≥22 wk), and 137 (35%) terminations/miscarriages (<22 wk). Of 226 live-births, seven (3%) infants died <2 wk from perinatal causes and there were seven (3%) congenital abnormalities, with no effect of in utero tenofovir exposure (p>0.4). Of 219 surviving infants, 182 (83%) enrolled in the follow-up study; median (interquartile range [IQR]) age at last visit was 25 (12–38) months. From mothers' ART, 62/9/111 infants had no/20%–89%/≥90% in utero tenofovir exposure; most were also zidovudine/lamivudine exposed. All 172 infants tested were HIV-negative (ten untested). Only 73/182(40%) infants were breast-fed for median 94 (IQR 75–212) days. Overall, 14 infants died at median (IQR) age 9 (3–23) months, giving 5% 12-month mortality; six of 14 were HIV-uninfected; eight untested infants died of respiratory infection (three), sepsis (two), burns (one), measles (one), unknown (one). During follow-up, no bone fractures were reported to have occurred; 12/368 creatinines and seven out of 305 phosphates were grade one (16) or two (three) in 14 children with no effect of in utero tenofovir (p>0.1). There was no evidence that in utero tenofovir affected growth after 2 years (p = 0.38). Attained height- and weight for age were similar to general (HIV-uninfected) Ugandan populations. Study limitations included relatively small size and lack of randomisation to maternal ART regimens.
Conclusions
Overall 1-year 5% infant mortality was similar to the 2%–4% post-neonatal mortality observed in this region. No increase in congenital, renal, or growth abnormalities was observed with in utero tenofovir exposure. Although some infants died untested, absence of recorded HIV infection with combination ART in pregnancy is encouraging. Detailed safety of tenofovir for pre-exposure prophylaxis will need confirmation from longer term follow-up of larger numbers of exposed children.
Trial registration
www.controlled-trials.com ISRCTN13968779
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Currently, about 34 million people (mostly in low- and middle-income countries) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. At the beginning of the epidemic, more men than women were infected with HIV but now about half of all people living with HIV/AIDS are women, most of who became infected through unprotected sex with an infected partner. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 12 million women are HIV-positive. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of child-bearing age. Moreover, most of the 400,000 children who become infected with HIV every year acquire the virus from their mother during pregnancy or birth, or through breastfeeding, so-called mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART)—treatment with cocktails of powerful antiretroviral drugs—reduces HIV-related illness and death among women, and ART given to HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy and delivery and to their newborn babies greatly reduces MTCT.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because of ongoing international efforts to increase ART coverage, more HIV-positive women in Africa have access to ART now than ever before. However, little is known about pregnancy outcomes among HIV-infected African women taking ART throughout pregnancy for their own health or about the long-term outcomes of their offspring. In particular, few studies have examined the effect of taking tenofovir (an antiretroviral drug that is now recommended as part of first-line ART) throughout pregnancy. Tenofovir readily crosses from mother to child during pregnancy and, in animal experiments, high doses of tenofovir given during pregnancy caused bone demineralization (which weakens bones), kidney problems, and impaired growth among offspring. In this study, the researchers analyze data collected on pregnancy and infant outcomes among Ugandan and Zimbabwean HIV-positive women who took ART throughout pregnancy in the Development of AntiRetroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) trial. This trial was designed to test whether ART could be safely and effectively delivered in Africa without access to the expensive laboratory tests that are routinely used to monitor ART toxicity and efficacy in developed countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The pregnancy outcomes of 302 women who became pregnant during the DART trial and information on birth defects among their babies were collected as part of the DART protocol; information on the survival, growth, and development of the infants born to these women was collected in a separate infant study. Most of the women who became pregnant were taking tenofovir-containing ART before and throughout their pregnancies. 58% of the pregnancies resulted in a live birth, 7% resulted in a stillbirth (birth of a dead baby at any time from 22 weeks gestation to the end of pregnancy), and 35% resulted in a termination or miscarriage (before 22 weeks gestation). Of the 226 live births, seven infants died within 2 weeks and seven had birth defects. Similar proportions of the infants exposed and not exposed to tenofovir during pregnancy died soon after birth or had birth defects. Of the 182 surviving infants who were enrolled in the infant study, 14 subsequently died at an average age of 9 months, giving a 1-year mortality of 5%. None of the surviving children who were tested (172 infants) were HIV infected. No bone fractures or major kidney problems occurred during follow-up and prebirth exposure to tenofovir in utero had no effect on growth or weight gain at 2 years (in contrast to a previous US study).
What Do These Findings Mean?
By showing that prebirth tenofovir exposure does not affect pregnancy outcomes or increase birth defects, growth abnormalities, or kidney problems, these findings support the use of tenofovir-containing ART during pregnancy among HIV-positive African women, and suggest that it could also be used to prevent women of child-bearing age acquiring HIV-infection heterosexually. Notably, the observed 5% 1-year infant mortality is similar to the 2%–4% infant mortality normally seen in the region. The absence of HIV infection among the infants born to the DART participants is also encouraging. However, this is a small study (only 111 infants were exposed to tenofovir throughout pregnancy) and women were not randomly assigned to receive tenofovir-containing ART. Consequently, more studies are needed to confirm that tenofovir exposure during pregnancy does not affect pregnancy outcomes or have any long-term effects on infants. Such studies are essential because the use of tenofovir as a treatment for women who are HIV-positive is likely to increase and tenofovir may also be used in the future to prevent HIV acquisition in HIV-uninfected women.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001217.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS nonprofit on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, women, HIV and AIDS, children, HIV and AIDS, and on HIV/AIDS and pregnancy (some information in English and Spanish); personal stories of women living with HIV are available
More information about the DART trial is available
Additional patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001217
PMCID: PMC3352861  PMID: 22615543
6.  Birth outcome in women with breast cancer, cutaneous malignant melanoma, or Hodgkin’s disease: a review 
Clinical Epidemiology  2010;3:7-19.
Background
Data on birth outcome in women diagnosed with cancer before, during, or shortly after pregnancy are very sparse. The purpose of this review was to summarize the existing epidemiologic evidence of the adverse effect of breast cancer, cutaneous malignant melanoma, and Hodgkin’s disease on birth outcome.
Methods
The MEDLINE database was used to review the literature systematically. Studies that examined the following outcomes were included: preterm birth, low birth weight, low birth weight at term, stillbirths, congenital abnormalities, male proportion of newborns, and mean birth weight. Studies were grouped according to whether the woman had been diagnosed with the specific cancer before, during, or shortly after pregnancy.
Results
Few data exist on birth outcome in women with breast cancer, melanoma, or Hodgkin’s disease. The overall results from the limited number of studies, which included a comparison group for birth outcome, were reassuring. However, for women diagnosed with breast cancer before pregnancy, the only 2 studies that included comparison groups for birth outcome had conflicting results regarding the risk of preterm birth and congenital abnormalities. Furthermore, a recent cohort study of birth outcome in women who were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease before pregnancy indicated a slightly increased risk of congenital abnormalities among the newborns.
Conclusion
Overall, the existing studies offer reassuring results concerning the risks of adverse birth outcome for women diagnosed with breast cancer, melanoma, or Hodgkin’s disease before, during or shortly after pregnancy. A limitation of most studies was the imprecise risk estimates caused by the small number of adverse birth outcomes and the lack of results stratified by treatment. Therefore, international collaboration is necessary in the future, to obtain more precise risk estimates for adverse birth outcomes, and to allow stratified analyses according to, for example, treatment.
doi:10.2147/CLEP.S12190
PMCID: PMC3035602  PMID: 21326655
epidemiology; breast cancer; melanoma; Hodgkin’s disease; birth outcome
7.  Risk Prediction for Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancer in White Women Aged 50 y or Older: Derivation and Validation from Population-Based Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001492.
Ruth Pfeiffer and colleagues describe models to calculate absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers for white, non-Hispanic women over 50 years old using easily obtainable risk factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers share some hormonal and epidemiologic risk factors. While several models predict absolute risk of breast cancer, there are few models for ovarian cancer in the general population, and none for endometrial cancer.
Methods and Findings
Using data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50+ y from two large population-based cohorts (the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial [PLCO] and the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study [NIH-AARP]), we estimated relative and attributable risks and combined them with age-specific US-population incidence and competing mortality rates. All models included parity. The breast cancer model additionally included estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) use, other MHT use, age at first live birth, menopausal status, age at menopause, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, benign breast disease/biopsies, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI); the endometrial model included menopausal status, age at menopause, BMI, smoking, oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and an interaction term between BMI and MHT use; the ovarian model included oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and family history or breast or ovarian cancer. In independent validation data (Nurses' Health Study cohort) the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated; expected to observed cancer ratios were 1.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96–1.04) for breast cancer and 1.08 (95% CI: 0.97–1.19) for ovarian cancer. The number of endometrial cancers was significantly overestimated, expected/observed = 1.20 (95% CI: 1.11–1.29). The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves (AUCs; discriminatory power) were 0.58 (95% CI: 0.57–0.59), 0.59 (95% CI: 0.56–0.63), and 0.68 (95% CI: 0.66–0.70) for the breast, ovarian, and endometrial models, respectively.
Conclusions
These models predict absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers from easily obtainable risk factors and may assist in clinical decision-making. Limitations are the modest discriminatory ability of the breast and ovarian models and that these models may not generalize to women of other races.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, just three types of cancer accounted for 10% of global cancer-related deaths. That year, about 460,000 women died from breast cancer (the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women and the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death). Another 140,000 women died from ovarian cancer, and 74,000 died from endometrial (womb) cancer (the 14th and 20th most common causes of cancer-related death, respectively). Although these three cancers originate in different tissues, they nevertheless share many risk factors. For example, current age, age at menarche (first period), and parity (the number of children a woman has had) are all strongly associated with breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer risk. Because these cancers share many hormonal and epidemiological risk factors, a woman with a high breast cancer risk is also likely to have an above-average risk of developing ovarian or endometrial cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several statistical models (for example, the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool) have been developed that estimate a woman's absolute risk (probability) of developing breast cancer over the next few years or over her lifetime. Absolute risk prediction models are useful in the design of cancer prevention trials and can also help women make informed decisions about cancer prevention and treatment options. For example, a woman at high risk of breast cancer might decide to take tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention, but ideally she needs to know her absolute endometrial cancer risk before doing so because tamoxifen increases the risk of this cancer. Similarly, knowledge of her ovarian cancer risk might influence a woman's decision regarding prophylactic removal of her ovaries to reduce her breast cancer risk. There are few absolute risk prediction models for ovarian cancer, and none for endometrial cancer, so here the researchers develop models to predict the risk of these cancers and of breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Absolute risk prediction models are constructed by combining estimates for risk factors from cohorts with population-based incidence rates from cancer registries. Models are validated in an independent cohort by testing their ability to identify people with the disease in an independent cohort and their ability to predict the observed numbers of incident cases. The researchers used data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older that were collected during two large prospective US cohort studies of cancer screening and of diet and health, and US cancer incidence and mortality rates provided by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program to build their models. The models all included parity as a risk factor, as well as other factors. The model for endometrial cancer, for example, also included menopausal status, age at menopause, body mass index (an indicator of the amount of body fat), oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone therapy use, and an interaction term between menopausal hormone therapy use and body mass index. Individual women's risk for endometrial cancer calculated using this model ranged from 1.22% to 17.8% over the next 20 years depending on their exposure to various risk factors. Validation of the models using data from the US Nurses' Health Study indicated that the endometrial cancer model overestimated the risk of endometrial cancer but that the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated—the predicted and observed risks for these cancers in the validation cohort agreed closely. Finally, the discriminatory power of the models (a measure of how well a model separates people who have a disease from people who do not have the disease) was modest for the breast and ovarian cancer models but somewhat better for the endometrial cancer model.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer can all be predicted using information on known risk factors for these cancers that is easily obtainable. Because these models were constructed and validated using data from white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older, they may not accurately predict absolute risk for these cancers for women of other races or ethnicities. Moreover, the modest discriminatory power of the breast and ovarian cancer models means they cannot be used to decide which women should be routinely screened for these cancers. Importantly, however, these well-calibrated models should provide realistic information about an individual's risk of developing breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer that can be used in clinical decision-making and that may assist in the identification of potential participants for research studies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Lars Holmberg and Andrew Vickers
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer;
Information on the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and on the prospective cohort study of screening and the diet and health study that provided the data used to build the models is also available on the NCI site
Cancer Research UK, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer; the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer and ovarian cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492
PMCID: PMC3728034  PMID: 23935463
8.  Post-neonatal Mortality, Morbidity, and Developmental Outcome after Ultrasound-Dated Preterm Birth in Rural Malawi: A Community-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001121.
Using data collected as a follow-up to a randomized trial, Melissa Gladstone and colleagues show that during the first two years of life, infants born preterm in southern Malawi are disadvantaged in terms of mortality, growth, and development.
Background
Preterm birth is considered to be associated with an estimated 27% of neonatal deaths, the majority in resource-poor countries where rates of prematurity are high. There is no information on medium term outcomes after accurately determined preterm birth in such settings.
Methods and Findings
This community-based stratified cohort study conducted between May–December 2006 in Southern Malawi followed up 840 post-neonatal infants born to mothers who had received antenatal antibiotic prophylaxis/placebo in an attempt to reduce rates of preterm birth (APPLe trial ISRCTN84023116). Gestational age at delivery was based on ultrasound measurement of fetal bi-parietal diameter in early-mid pregnancy. 247 infants born before 37 wk gestation and 593 term infants were assessed at 12, 18, or 24 months. We assessed survival (death), morbidity (reported by carer, admissions, out-patient attendance), growth (weight and height), and development (Ten Question Questionnaire [TQQ] and Malawi Developmental Assessment Tool [MDAT]). Preterm infants were at significantly greater risk of death (hazard ratio 1.79, 95% CI 1.09–2.95). Surviving preterm infants were more likely to be underweight (weight-for-age z score; p<0.001) or wasted (weight-for-length z score; p<0.01) with no effect of gestational age at delivery. Preterm infants more often screened positively for disability on the Ten Question Questionnaire (p = 0.002). They also had higher rates of developmental delay on the MDAT at 18 months (p = 0.009), with gestational age at delivery (p = 0.01) increasing this likelihood. Morbidity—visits to a health centre (93%) and admissions to hospital (22%)—was similar for both groups.
Conclusions
During the first 2 years of life, infants who are born preterm in resource poor countries, continue to be at a disadvantage in terms of mortality, growth, and development. In addition to interventions in the immediate neonatal period, a refocus on early childhood is needed to improve outcomes for infants born preterm in low-income settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Being born at term in Africa is not necessarily straightforward. In Malawi, 33 of every 1,000 infants born die in the first 28 days after birth; the lifetime risk for a mother dying during or shortly after pregnancy is one in 36. The comparable figures for the United Kingdom are three infants dying per 1,000 births and a lifetime risk of maternal death of one in 4,700. But for a baby, being born preterm is even more risky and the gap between low- and high-income countries widens still further. According to a World Health Organization report in 2010, a baby born at 32 weeks of gestation (weighing around 2,000 g) in Africa has little chance of survival, while the chances of survival for a baby born at 32 weeks in North America or Europe are similar to one born at term. There are very few data on the longer term outcomes of babies born preterm in Africa and there are multiple challenges involved in gathering such information. As prenatal ultrasound is not routinely available, gestational age is often uncertain. There may be little routine follow-up of preterm babies as is commonplace in high-income countries. Data are needed from recent years that take into account both improvements in perinatal care and adverse factors such as a rising number of infants becoming HIV positive around the time of birth.
Why Was This Study Done?
We could improve outcomes for babies born preterm in sub-Saharan Africa if we understood more about what happens to them after birth. We cannot assume that the progress of these babies will be the same as those born preterm in a high-income country, as the latter group will have received different care, both before and after birth. If we can document the problems that these preterm babies face in a low-income setting, we can consider why they happen and what treatments can be realistically tested in this setting. It is also helpful to establish baseline data so that changes over time can be recorded.
The aim of this study was to document four specific outcomes up to the age of two years, on which there were few data previously from rural sub-Saharan Africa: how many babies survived, visits to a health center and admissions to the hospital, growth, and developmental delay.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers examined a group of babies that had been born to mothers who had taken part in a randomized controlled trial of an antibiotic to prevent preterm birth. The trial had previously shown that the antibiotic (azithromycin) had no effect on how many babies were born preterm or on other measures of the infants' wellbeing, and so the researchers followed up babies from both arms of the trial to look at longer term outcomes. From the original group of 2,297 women who took part in the trial, they compared 247 infants born preterm against 593 term infants randomly chosen as controls, assessed at 12, 18, or 24 months. The majority of the preterm babies who survived past a month of age (all but ten) were born after 32 weeks of gestation. Compared to the babies born at term, the infants born preterm were nearly twice as likely to die subsequently in the next two years, were more likely to be underweight (a third were moderately underweight), and to have higher rates of developmental delay. The commonest causes of death were gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, and malaria. Visits to a health center and admissions to hospital were similar in both groups.
What Do these Findings Mean?
This study documents longer term outcomes of babies born preterm in sub-Saharan Africa in detail for the first time. The strengths of the study include prenatal ultrasound dating and correct adjustment of follow-up age (which takes into account being born before term). Because the researchers defined morbidity using routine health center attendances and self-report of illnesses by parents, this outcome does not seem to have been as useful as the others in differentiating between the preterm and term babies. Better means of measuring morbidity are needed in this setting.
In the developed world, there is considerable investment being made to improve care during pregnancy and in the neonatal period. This investment in care may help by predicting which mothers are more likely to give birth early and preventing preterm birth through drug or other treatments. It is to be hoped that some of the benefit will be transferable to low-income countries. A baby born at 26 weeks' gestation and admitted to a neonatal unit in the United Kingdom has a 67% chance of survival; preterm babies born in sub-Saharan Africa face a starkly contrasting future.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001121.
UNICEF presents useful statistics on mother and child outcomes
The World Health Organization has attempted to analyse preterm birth rates worldwide, including mapping the regional distribution and has also produced practical guides on strategies such as Kangaroo Mother Care, which can be used for the care of preterm infants in low resource settings
Healthy Newborn Network has good information on initiatives taking place to improve neonatal outcomes in low income settings
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on research being conducted into preterm birth
Tommy's is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the risks and causes of premature birth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001121
PMCID: PMC3210771  PMID: 22087079
9.  Global Estimates of Syphilis in Pregnancy and Associated Adverse Outcomes: Analysis of Multinational Antenatal Surveillance Data 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001396.
Using multinational surveillance data, Lori Newman and colleagues estimate global rates of active syphilis in pregnant women, adverse effects, and antenatal coverage and treatment needed to meet WHO goals.
Background
The World Health Organization initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis aims for ≥90% of pregnant women to be tested for syphilis and ≥90% to receive treatment by 2015. We calculated global and regional estimates of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008, as well as antenatal care (ANC) coverage for women with syphilis.
Methods and Findings
Estimates were based upon a health service delivery model. National syphilis seropositivity data from 97 of 193 countries and ANC coverage from 147 countries were obtained from World Health Organization databases. Proportions of adverse outcomes and effectiveness of screening and treatment were from published literature. Regional estimates of ANC syphilis testing and treatment were examined through sensitivity analysis. In 2008, approximately 1.36 million (range: 1.16 to 1.56 million) pregnant women globally were estimated to have probable active syphilis; of these, 80% had attended ANC. Globally, 520,905 (best case: 425,847; worst case: 615,963) adverse outcomes were estimated to be caused by maternal syphilis, including approximately 212,327 (174,938; 249,716) stillbirths (>28 wk) or early fetal deaths (22 to 28 wk), 91,764 (76,141; 107,397) neonatal deaths, 65,267 (56,929; 73,605) preterm or low birth weight infants, and 151,547 (117,848; 185,245) infected newborns. Approximately 66% of adverse outcomes occurred in ANC attendees who were not tested or were not treated for syphilis. In 2008, based on the middle case scenario, clinical services likely averted 26% of all adverse outcomes. Limitations include missing syphilis seropositivity data for many countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and North America, and use of estimates for the proportion of syphilis that was “probable active,” and for testing and treatment coverage.
Conclusions
Syphilis continues to affect large numbers of pregnant women, causing substantial perinatal morbidity and mortality that could be prevented by early testing and treatment. In this analysis, most adverse outcomes occurred among women who attended ANC but were not tested or treated for syphilis, highlighting the need to improve the quality of ANC as well as ANC coverage. In addition, improved ANC data on syphilis testing coverage, positivity, and treatment are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Syphilis—a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum—can pass from a mother who is infected to her unborn child. Screening pregnant women for syphilis during routine antenatal care by looking for a reaction to T. pallidum in the blood (seropositivity) and then treating any detected infections with penicillin injections has been feasible for many years, even in low-resource settings. However, because coverage of testing and treatment of syphilis remains low in many countries, mother-to-child transmission of syphilis—“congenital syphilis”—is still a global public health problem. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were 2 million syphilis infections among pregnant women annually, 65% of which resulted in adverse pregnancy outcomes: the baby's death during early or late pregnancy (fetal death and stillbirth, respectively) or soon after birth (neonatal death), or the birth of an infected baby. Babies born with syphilis often have a low birth weight and develop problems such as blindness, deafness, and seizures if not treated.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2007, WHO launched an initiative to eliminate congenital syphilis that set targets of at least 90% of pregnant women being tested for syphilis and at least 90% of seropositive pregnant women receiving adequate treatment by 2015. To assess the initiative's progress and to guide policy and advocacy efforts, accurate global data on the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and on associated adverse outcomes are needed. Unfortunately, even in developed countries with good laboratory facilities, definitive diagnosis of congenital syphilis is difficult. Estimates of the global burden can be obtained, however, using mathematical models. In this study, the researchers generate global and regional estimates of the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008 using a health services delivery model.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model to estimate the number of syphilis-infected pregnant women in each country and in each region, and to estimate the regional and global numbers of adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with syphilis. They used national syphilis seropositivity data and information on antenatal care coverage from WHO and estimates of the effectiveness of screening and treatment from published literature. Using these data and their model, the researchers estimated that, in 2008, 1.4 million pregnant women, 80% of whom had attended antenatal care services, had an active syphilis infection. Assuming a scenario in which the percentage of pregnant women tested for syphilis and adequately treated ranged from 30% for Africa and the Mediterranean region to 70% for Europe (a scenario defined in consultation with WHO advisors), the researchers estimated that maternal syphilis caused 520,000 adverse outcomes in 2008, including 215,000 stillbirths or fetal deaths, 90,000 neonatal deaths, 65,000 preterm or low birth weight infants, and 150,000 infants with congenital disease. About 66% of these adverse effects occurred in women who had attended antenatal care but were either not tested or not treated for syphilis. Finally, the researchers estimated that in 2008, clinical services averted 26% of all adverse outcomes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings, which update and extend previous estimates of the global burden of congenital syphilis, indicate that syphilis continues to affect a large number of pregnant women and their offspring. The current findings, which cannot be directly compared to previous estimates because of the different methodologies used, are likely to be affected by the accuracy of the data fed into the researchers' model. In particular, the data on the percentage of the population infected with syphilis in individual countries used in this study came from the HIV Universal Access reporting system and may not be nationally representative. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that syphilis continues to be an important cause of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, partly because pregnant women often do not receive syphilis screening and prompt treatment during routine antenatal care. The researchers recommend, therefore, that all countries should ensure that all pregnant women receive an essential package of high-quality antenatal care services that includes routine and easy access to syphilis testing and treatment. Congenital syphilis, they conclude, can only be eliminated if decision-makers at all levels prioritize the provision, quality, and monitoring of this basic antenatal care service, which has the potential to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396.
The World Health Organization provides information on sexually transmitted diseases, including details of its strategy for the global elimination of congenital syphilis, the investment case for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, and regional updates on progress towards elimination (some information is available in several languages)
The Pan American Health Organization provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Latin America (in English and Spanish), and the Asia-Pacific Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission Task Force provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Asia Pacific
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on syphilis (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also has a page on syphilis
MedlinePlus provides information on congenital syphilis and links to additional syphilis resources (in English and Spanish)
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provides a toolkit for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests
Haiti: Congenital Syphilis on the Way Out is a YouTube video describing the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests for syphilis in remote parts of Haiti
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396
PMCID: PMC3582608  PMID: 23468598
10.  DEAR1 Is a Dominant Regulator of Acinar Morphogenesis and an Independent Predictor of Local Recurrence-Free Survival in Early-Onset Breast Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000068.
Ann Killary and colleagues describe a new gene that is genetically altered in breast tumors, and that may provide a new breast cancer prognostic marker.
Background
Breast cancer in young women tends to have a natural history of aggressive disease for which rates of recurrence are higher than in breast cancers detected later in life. Little is known about the genetic pathways that underlie early-onset breast cancer. Here we report the discovery of DEAR1 (ductal epithelium–associated RING Chromosome 1), a novel gene encoding a member of the TRIM (tripartite motif) subfamily of RING finger proteins, and provide evidence for its role as a dominant regulator of acinar morphogenesis in the mammary gland and as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival in early-onset breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
Suppression subtractive hybridization identified DEAR1 as a novel gene mapping to a region of high-frequency loss of heterozygosity (LOH) in a number of histologically diverse human cancers within Chromosome 1p35.1. In the breast epithelium, DEAR1 expression is limited to the ductal and glandular epithelium and is down-regulated in transition to ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early histologic stage in breast tumorigenesis. DEAR1 missense mutations and homozygous deletion (HD) were discovered in breast cancer cell lines and tumor samples. Introduction of the DEAR1 wild type and not the missense mutant alleles to complement a mutation in a breast cancer cell line, derived from a 36-year-old female with invasive breast cancer, initiated acinar morphogenesis in three-dimensional (3D) basement membrane culture and restored tissue architecture reminiscent of normal acinar structures in the mammary gland in vivo. Stable knockdown of DEAR1 in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) recapitulated the growth in 3D culture of breast cancer cell lines containing mutated DEAR1, in that shDEAR1 clones demonstrated disruption of tissue architecture, loss of apical basal polarity, diffuse apoptosis, and failure of lumen formation. Furthermore, immunohistochemical staining of a tissue microarray from a cohort of 123 young female breast cancer patients with a 20-year follow-up indicated that in early-onset breast cancer, DEAR1 expression serves as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival and correlates significantly with strong family history of breast cancer and the triple-negative phenotype (ER−, PR−, HER-2−) of breast cancers with poor prognosis.
Conclusions
Our data provide compelling evidence for the genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 in breast cancer, for the functional role of DEAR1 in the dominant regulation of acinar morphogenesis in 3D culture, and for the potential utility of an immunohistochemical assay for DEAR1 expression as an independent prognostic marker for stratification of early-onset disease.
Editors' Summary
Background
Each year, more than one million women discover that they have breast cancer. This type of cancer begins when cells in the breast that line the milk-producing glands or the tubes that take the milk to the nipples (glandular and ductal epithelial cells, respectively) acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make patients very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although breast cancer is usually diagnosed in women in their 50s or 60s, some women develop breast cancer much earlier. In these women, the disease is often very aggressive. Compared to older women, young women with breast cancer have a lower overall survival rate and their cancer is more likely to recur locally or to metastasize. It would be useful to be able to recognize those younger women at the greatest risk of cancer recurrence so that they could be offered intensive surveillance and adjuvant therapy; those women at a lower risk could have gentler treatments. To achieve this type of “stratification,” the genetic changes that underlie breast cancer in young women need to be identified. In this study, the researchers discover a gene that is genetically altered (by mutations or deletion) in early-onset breast cancer and then investigate whether its expression can predict outcomes in women with this disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used “suppression subtractive hybridization” to identify a new gene in a region of human Chromosome 1 where loss of heterozygosity (LOH; a genetic alteration associated with cancer development) frequently occurs. They called the gene DEAR1 (ductal epithelium-associated RING Chromosome 1) to indicate that it is expressed in ductal and glandular epithelial cells and encodes a “RING finger” protein (specifically, a subtype called a TRIM protein; RING finger proteins such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been implicated in early cancer development and in a large fraction of inherited breast cancers). DEAR1 expression was reduced or lost in several ductal carcinomas in situ (a local abnormality that can develop into breast cancer) and advanced breast cancers, the researchers report. Furthermore, many breast tumors carried DEAR1 missense mutations (genetic changes that interfere with the normal function of the DEAR1 protein) or had lost both copies of DEAR1 (the human genome contains two copies of most genes). To determine the function of DEAR1, the researchers replaced a normal copy of DEAR1 into a breast cancer cell that had a mutation in DEAR1. They then examined the growth of these genetically manipulated cells in special three-dimensional cultures. The breast cancer cells without DEAR1 grew rapidly without an organized structure while the breast cancer cells containing the introduced copy of DEAR1 formed structures that resembled normal breast acini (sac-like structures that secrete milk). In normal human mammary epithelial cells, the researchers silenced DEAR1 expression and also showed that without DEAR1, the normal mammary cells lost their ability to form proper acini. Finally, the researchers report that DEAR1 expression (detected “immunohistochemically”) was frequently lost in women who had had early-onset breast cancer and that the loss of DEAR1 expression correlated with reduced local recurrence-free survival, a strong family history of breast cancer and with a breast cancer subtype that has a poor outcome.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 are common in breast cancer. Although laboratory experiments may not necessarily reflect what happens in people, the results from the three-dimensional culture of breast epithelial cells suggest that DEAR1 may regulate the normal acinar structure of the breast. Consequently, loss of DEAR1 expression could be an early event in breast cancer development. Most importantly, the correlation between DEAR1 expression and both local recurrence in early-onset breast cancer and a breast cancer subtype with a poor outcome suggests that it might be possible to use DEAR1 expression to identify women with early-onset breast cancer who have an increased risk of local recurrence so that they get the most appropriate treatment for their cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Senthil Muthuswamy
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on genetic alterations in breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; MedlinePlus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charities Cancerbackup (now merged with MacMillan Cancer Support) and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068
PMCID: PMC2673042  PMID: 19536326
11.  Birth outcome in women with breast cancer 
British Journal of Cancer  2006;94(1):142-146.
We investigated whether maternal breast cancer affects birth outcome in a nationwide cohort study of 695 births from 1973 to 2002 of women with breast cancer with respect to preterm birth, low birth weight at term, stillbirth and congenital abnormalities as well as mean birth weight, compared with the outcomes of 33 443 births from unaffected mothers. There was no excess risk of adverse birth outcome for the 216 newborns of women with breast cancer before pregnancy. Stratification by mother's treatment did not change the results. For 37 newborns of women diagnosed during pregnancy, the prevalence ratio (PR) of preterm birth was 8.1 (95% confidence interval (CI): 3.8–17). However, 10 of the 12 preterm deliveries among these women were elective early deliveries. Among 442 births of women diagnosed in the 2 years from time of delivery, the PR of preterm birth was 1.4 (95% CI: 1.0–2.0), and the PR of low birth weight at term for boys was 2.9 (95% CI: 1.3–6.3). Overall, our results are reassuring regarding the risks of adverse birth outcome for breast cancer patients.
doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6602878
PMCID: PMC2361078  PMID: 16306874
epidemiology; breast cancer; birth outcome; cohort study
12.  Perinatal characteristics and breast cancer risk in daughters: a Scandinavian population-based study 
The in utero origins of breast cancer are an increasing focus of research. However, the long time period between exposure and disease diagnosis, and the lack of standardized perinatal data collection makes this research challenging. We assessed perinatal factors, as proxies for in utero exposures, and breast cancer risk using pooled, population-based birth and cancer registry data. Birth registries provided information on perinatal exposures. Cases were females born in Norway, Sweden or Denmark who were subsequently diagnosed with primary, invasive breast cancer (n = 1419). Ten controls for each case were selected from the birth registries matched on country and birth year (n = 14,190). Relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using unconditional regression models. Breast cancer risk rose 7% (95% CI 2–13%) with every 500 g (roughly 1 S.D.) increase in birth weight and 7% for every 1 s.d. increase in birth length (95% CI 1–14%). The association with birth length was attenuated after adjustment for birth weight, while the increase in risk with birth weight remained with adjustment for birth length. Ponderal index and small- and large-for-gestational-age status were not better predictors of risk than either weight or length alone. Risk was not associated with maternal education or age, gestational duration, delivery type or birth order, or with several pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia. These data confirm the positive association between birth weight and breast cancer risk. Other pregnancy characteristics, including complications such as preeclampsia, do not appear to be involved in later breast carcinogenesis in young women.
doi:10.1017/S2040174412000645
PMCID: PMC3766926  PMID: 24027626
birth weight; breast cancer; early life; in utero; preeclampsia; prenatal
13.  Maternal Overweight and Obesity and Risks of Severe Birth-Asphyxia-Related Complications in Term Infants: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Sweden 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001648.
Martina Persson and colleagues use a Swedish national database to investigate the association between maternal body mass index in early pregnancy and severe asphyxia-related outcomes in infants delivered at term.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Maternal overweight and obesity increase risks of pregnancy and delivery complications and neonatal mortality, but the mechanisms are unclear. The objective of the study was to investigate associations between maternal body mass index (BMI) in early pregnancy and severe asphyxia-related outcomes in infants delivered at term (≥37 weeks).
Methods and Findings
A nation-wide Swedish cohort study based on data from the Medical Birth Register included all live singleton term births in Sweden between 1992 and 2010. Logistic regression analyses were used to obtain odds ratios (ORs) with 95% CIs for Apgar scores between 0 and 3 at 5 and 10 minutes, meconium aspiration syndrome, and neonatal seizures, adjusted for maternal height, maternal age, parity, mother's smoking habits, education, country of birth, and year of infant birth. Among 1,764,403 term births, 86% had data on early pregnancy BMI and Apgar scores. There were 1,380 infants who had Apgar score 0–3 at 5 minutes (absolute risk  = 0.8 per 1,000) and 894 had Apgar score 0–3 at 10 minutes (absolute risk  = 0.5 per 1,000). Compared with infants of mothers with normal BMI (18.5–24.9), the adjusted ORs (95% CI) for Apgar scores 0–3 at 10 minutes were as follows: BMI 25–29.9: 1.32 (1.10–1.58); BMI 30–34.9: 1.57 (1.20–2.07); BMI 35–39.9: 1.80 (1.15–2.82); and BMI ≥40: 3.41 (1.91–6.09). The ORs for Apgar scores 0–3 at 5 minutes, meconium aspiration, and neonatal seizures increased similarly with maternal BMI. A study limitation was lack of data on effects of obstetric interventions and neonatal resuscitation efforts.
Conclusion
Risks of severe asphyxia-related outcomes in term infants increase with maternal overweight and obesity. Given the high prevalence of the exposure and the severity of the outcomes studied, the results are of potential public health relevance and should be confirmed in other populations. Prevention of overweight and obesity in women of reproductive age is important to improve perinatal health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Economic, technologic, and lifestyle changes over the past 30 years have created an abundance of cheap, accessible, high-calorie food. Combined with fewer demands for physical activity, this situation has lead to increasing body mass throughout most of the world. Consequently, being overweight or obese is much more common in many high-income and low-and middle-income countries compared to 1980. Worldwide estimates put the percentage of overweight or obese adults as increasing by over 10%, between 1980 and 2008.
As being overweight becomes a global epidemic, its prevalence in women of reproductive age has also increased. Pregnant women who are overweight or obese are a cause for concern because of the possible associated health risks to both the infant and mother. Research is necessary to more clearly define these risks.
Why Was This Study Done?
In this study, the researchers investigated the complications associated with excess maternal weight that could hinder an infant from obtaining enough oxygen during delivery (neonatal asphyxia). All fetuses experience a loss of oxygen during contractions, however, a prolonged loss of oxygen can impact an infant's long-term development. To explore this risk, the researchers relied on a universal scoring system known as the Apgar score. An Apgar score is routinely recorded at one, five, and ten minutes after birth and is calculated from an assessment of heart rate, respiratory effort, and color, along with reflexes and muscle tone. An oxygen deficit during delivery will have an impact on the score. A normal score is in the range of 7–10. Body mass index (BMI) a calculation that uses height and weight, was used to assess the weight status (i.e., normal, overweight, obese) of the mother during pregnancy.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using the Swedish medical birth registry (a database including nearly all the births occurring in Sweden since 1973) the researchers selected records for single births that took place between 1992 to 2010. The registry also incorporates prenatal care data and researchers further selected for records that included weight and height measurement taken during the first prenatal visit. BMI was calculated using the weight and height measurement. Based on BMI ranges that define weight groups as normal, overweight, and obesity grades I, II, and III, the researchers analyzed and compared the number of low Apgar scoring infants (Apgar 0–3) in each group. Mothers with normal weight gave birth to the majority of infants with Apgar 0–3. In comparison the proportion of low Apgar scores were greater in babies of overweight and obese mothers. The researchers found that the rates of low Apgar scores increased with maternal BMI: the authors found that rates of low Apgar score at 5 minutes increased from 0.4 per 1,000 among infants of underweight women (BMI <18.5) to 2.4 per 1,000 among infants of women with obesity class III (BMI ≥40). Furthermore, overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9) was associated with a 55% increased risk of low Apgar scores at 5 minutes; obesity grade I (BMI 30–34.9) and grade II (BMI 35.0–39.9) with an almost 2-fold and a more than 2-fold increased risk, respectively; and obesity grade ΙΙΙ (BMI ≥40.0) with a more than 3-fold increase in risk. Finally, maternal overweight and obesity also increase the risks for seizures and meconium aspiration in the neonate.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the risk of experiencing an oxygen deficit increases for the babies of women who are overweight or obese. Given the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in many countries worldwide, these findings are important and suggest that preventing women of reproductive age from becoming overweight or obese is therefore important to the health of their children.
A limitation of this study is the lack of data on the effects of clinical interventions and neonatal resuscitation efforts that may have been performed at the time of birth. Also Apgar scoring is based on five variables and a low score is not the most direct way to determine if the infant has experienced an oxygen deficit. However, these findings suggest that early detection of perinatal asphyxia is particularly relevant among infants of overweight and obese women although more studies are necessary to confirm the results in other populations.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001648.
The US National Institutes of Health explains and calculates body mass index
The NIH also defines the Apgar scoring system
The United Kingdom's National Health Service has information for pregnant woman who are overweight
The UK-based Overseas Development Institute discusses how changes in diet have led to a worldwide health crisis in its “Future Diets” publication
Information about the Swedish health care system is available
Information in English is available from the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001648
PMCID: PMC4028185  PMID: 24845218
14.  Intermittent Preventive Treatment of Malaria in Pregnancy with Mefloquine in HIV-Negative Women: A Multicentre Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001733.
Clara Menéndez and colleagues conducted an open-label randomized controlled trial in HIV-negative pregnant women in Benin, Gabon, Mozambique, and Tanzania to evaluate the safety and efficacy of mefloquine compared to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine for intermittent preventative therapy for malaria.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) is recommended by WHO to prevent malaria in African pregnant women. The spread of SP parasite resistance has raised concerns regarding long-term use for IPT. Mefloquine (MQ) is the most promising of available alternatives to SP based on safety profile, long half-life, and high efficacy in Africa. We evaluated the safety and efficacy of MQ for IPTp compared to those of SP in HIV-negative women.
Methods and Findings
A total of 4,749 pregnant women were enrolled in an open-label randomized clinical trial conducted in Benin, Gabon, Mozambique, and Tanzania comparing two-dose MQ or SP for IPTp and MQ tolerability of two different regimens. The study arms were: (1) SP, (2) single dose MQ (15 mg/kg), and (3) split-dose MQ in the context of long lasting insecticide treated nets. There was no difference on low birth weight prevalence (primary study outcome) between groups (360/2,778 [13.0%]) for MQ group and 177/1,398 (12.7%) for SP group; risk ratio [RR], 1.02 (95% CI 0.86–1.22; p = 0.80 in the ITT analysis). Women receiving MQ had reduced risks of parasitemia (63/1,372 [4.6%] in the SP group and 88/2,737 [3.2%] in the MQ group; RR, 0.70 [95% CI 0.51–0.96]; p = 0.03) and anemia at delivery (609/1,380 [44.1%] in the SP group and 1,110/2743 [40.5%] in the MQ group; RR, 0.92 [95% CI 0.85–0.99]; p = 0.03), and reduced incidence of clinical malaria (96/551.8 malaria episodes person/year [PYAR] in the SP group and 130/1,103.2 episodes PYAR in the MQ group; RR, 0.67 [95% CI 0.52–0.88]; p = 0.004) and all-cause outpatient attendances during pregnancy (850/557.8 outpatients visits PYAR in the SP group and 1,480/1,110.1 visits PYAR in the MQ group; RR, 0.86 [0.78–0.95]; p = 0.003). There were no differences in the prevalence of placental infection and adverse pregnancy outcomes between groups. Tolerability was poorer in the two MQ groups compared to SP. The most frequently reported related adverse events were dizziness (ranging from 33.9% to 35.5% after dose 1; and 16.0% to 20.8% after dose 2) and vomiting (30.2% to 31.7%, after dose 1 and 15.3% to 17.4% after dose 2) with similar proportions in the full and split MQ arms. The open-label design is a limitation of the study that affects mainly the safety assessment.
Conclusions
Women taking MQ IPTp (15 mg/kg) in the context of long lasting insecticide treated nets had similar prevalence rates of low birth weight as those taking SP IPTp. MQ recipients had less clinical malaria than SP recipients, and the pregnancy outcomes and safety profile were similar. MQ had poorer tolerability even when splitting the dose over two days. These results do not support a change in the current IPTp policy.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT 00811421; Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR 2010020001429343
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Half the world's population is at risk of malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease that kills about 600,000 people every year. Most of these deaths occur among young children in sub-Saharan Africa but pregnant women and their unborn children living in Africa are also very vulnerable to malaria. Infection with malaria during pregnancy can cause severe maternal anemia (reduced red blood cell numbers), stillbirths, and pre-term and low-birthweight babies, and is responsible for the deaths of many African babies and women. To prevent this loss of life, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a three-pronged approach—the delivery to pregnant women of the antimalarial drug sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) at each scheduled antenatal care visit given at least one month apart (intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy; IPTp), the use of insecticide treated bed nets to protect pregnant women from the bites of infected mosquitoes, and effective case management of pregnant women with malarial illness.
Why Was This Study Done?
IPTp with SP reduces the delivery of low-birth-weight babies and neonatal deaths but malaria parasites are becoming resistant to SP. Thus, other antimalarial drugs need to be evaluated for use in IPTp. Suitable drugs need to remain in the body for a long time to maximize their prophylactic (preventative) effect, they need to be given as a single dose at antenatal clinic visits to ensure compliance, and they must not harm the unborn child. In this open-label, randomized controlled trial (RCT), the researchers compare the efficacy and safety of IPTp with SP and mefloquine (MQ, an antimalarial drug that matches these criteria) in HIV-negative women living in Africa. The study also compares the tolerability of two MQ regimens. RCTs compare outcomes in groups of people chosen to receive different interventions through the play of chance; in open-label RCTs, both the researchers and the study participants know which treatment is being administered. IPTp with SP is only recommended for HIV-negative women because SP interacts with cotrimoxazole, which is routinely given to HIV-positive individuals to prevent infections.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assigned 4,749 pregnant women in Benin, Gabon, Mozambique, and Tanzania to one of three study groups. Participants in the SP and MQ groups received two doses of SP or MQ, respectively, administered at least one month apart. Participants in the split-dose MQ group received each MQ dose as half doses given on consecutive days. The prevalence of low-birth-weight deliveries (the study's primary outcome; the prevalence of a condition is the proportion of a population with that condition) was similar in the SP group and in the combined MQ groups. However, compared to women who received SP, women who received MQ had a lower risk of parasitemia (parasites in the blood), a lower risk of anemia at delivery, fewer episodes of clinical malaria, and fewer outpatient attendances. The prevalence of placental infection with malaria parasites and of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth was similar in all the study groups. Finally, the tolerability of IPTp was poorer in the two MQ intervention groups than in the SP group, but similar proportions of adverse events (mainly dizziness and vomiting) were reported for the two MQ dosing regimens.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that HIV-negative African women taking MQ for IPTp had a similar risk of a low-birth-weight delivery (the study's primary outcome) and lower risk of malaria illness during pregnancy than women taking SP for IPTp. Because the study did not have a no-IPTp arm (for ethical reasons), these findings provide no information about the efficacy or safety or either MQ or SP per se; these findings only indicate that MQ is no more efficacious than SP in the prevention of low-birth-weight babies. Moreover, because the study was open-label, the accuracy of the findings related to the tolerability and safety of MQ compared to SP may be limited because of biases in the assessment of safety outcomes. Given that the MQ dose used here for IPTp was associated with poorer tolerability than that of SP, these findings do not support the use of MQ instead of SP for IPTp.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001733.
A related PLOS Medicine Research Article by Raquel González and colleagues examines IPTp-MQ in HIV-infected women receiving cotrimoxazole prophylaxis
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Richard Steketee.
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages) and on malaria in pregnancy; information on IPTp and the updated WHO policy recommendation on IPTp with SP are available; the 2013 World Malaria Report provides details of the current global malaria situation
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information on malaria; a personal story about malaria in pregnancy is available
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on all aspects of global malaria control, including information on malaria in pregnancy
The Malaria in Pregnancy Consortium is undertaking research into the prevention and treatment of malaria in pregnancy
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001733
PMCID: PMC4172436  PMID: 25247709
15.  Maternal Influenza Immunization and Reduced Likelihood of Prematurity and Small for Gestational Age Births: A Retrospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1000441.
In an analysis of surveillance data from the state of Georgia (US), Saad Omer and colleagues show an association between receipt of influenza vaccination among pregnant women and reduced risk of premature births.
Background
Infections during pregnancy have the potential to adversely impact birth outcomes. We evaluated the association between receipt of inactivated influenza vaccine during pregnancy and prematurity and small for gestational age (SGA) births.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cohort analysis of surveillance data from the Georgia (United States) Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. Among 4,326 live births between 1 June 2004 and 30 September 2006, maternal influenza vaccine information was available for 4,168 (96.3%). The primary intervention evaluated in this study was receipt of influenza vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy. The main outcome measures were prematurity (gestational age at birth <37 wk) and SGA (birth weight <10th percentile for gestational age). Infants who were born during the putative influenza season (1 October–31 May) and whose mothers were vaccinated against influenza during pregnancy were less likely to be premature compared to infants of unvaccinated mothers born in the same period (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 0.60; 95% CI, 0.38–0.94). The magnitude of association between maternal influenza vaccine receipt and reduced likelihood of prematurity increased during the period of at least local influenza activity (adjusted OR = 0.44; 95% CI, 0.26–0.73) and was greatest during the widespread influenza activity period (adjusted OR = 0.28; 95% CI, 0.11–0.74). Compared with newborns of unvaccinated women, newborns of vaccinated mothers had 69% lower odds of being SGA (adjusted OR = 0.31; 95% CI, 0.13–0.75) during the period of widespread influenza activity. The adjusted and unadjusted ORs were not significant for the pre-influenza activity period.
Conclusions
This study demonstrates an association between immunization with the inactivated influenza vaccine during pregnancy and reduced likelihood of prematurity during local, regional, and widespread influenza activity periods. However, no associations were found for the pre-influenza activity period. Moreover, during the period of widespread influenza activity there was an association between maternal receipt of influenza vaccine and reduced likelihood of SGA birth.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Maternal infections during pregnancy can have harmful effects on both mother and baby. For example, influenza is associated with increased morbidity and mortality among pregnant women compared to women who are not pregnant or who acquire influenza infection after delivery. And some respiratory infections, especially those that can cause maternal pneumonia such as influenza virus, are known to be associated with the baby being small—below the 10th percentile—for gestational age and with an increased risk of preterm birth—birth before 37 weeks of gestation. Previous studies have shown that inactivated influenza vaccination during pregnancy provides protection against influenza virus for both mother and baby. As there has been an increase in the rate of preterm birth the United States from 9.5% in 1981 to 12.8% in 2006, the impact of maternal influenza immunization on birth outcomes has important public health implications and is of particular interest during influenza pandemics.
Why Was This Study Done?
Given that maternal vaccination can protect babies from influenza virus, it is plausible that influenza vaccination in pregnancy could mitigate adverse birth outcomes such as prematurity and the baby being small for gestational age. The researchers of this study set out to evaluate this hypothesis by investigating whether there was an association between women receiving inactivated influenza vaccine during pregnancy and positive birth outcomes for their babies in the population of the state of Georgia, in the United States.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a retrospective cohort analysis of a large surveillance dataset (the Georgia Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System) to analyze the relationship between receipt of inactivated influenza vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy by mothers of infants born between June 1, 2004, and September 30, 2006, and their baby being premature or small for gestational age. The study period encompassed the 2004–2005 and 2005–2006 influenza seasons—the two most recent seasons for which the data were available. The researchers did a stratified analysis for the overall study period, and various periods during it, and also weighted their analysis to adjust for possible oversampling. They used logistic regression to evaluate the association of maternal influenza vaccine and (a) prematurity and (b) small for gestational age, and also used linear regression to evaluate the statistical significance of differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated women for mean gestational age at first antenatal visit and mean birth weight.
During the study period, 4,168 mother–baby pairs were included in the analysis. Local influenza activity was detected during 27 weeks (22.1%), and 578 women (14.9% [weighted]) had received the influenza vaccine during pregnancy, giving a vaccination coverage of 19.2% (weighted) among mothers of infants born during the assumed influenza season. In the study sample, 1,547 babies (10.6% [weighted]) were born premature, and 1,186 babies (11.2% [weighted]) were small for gestational age. Infants who were born during the assumed influenza season (October–May) and whose mothers were vaccinated against influenza during pregnancy were less likely to be premature than infants of unvaccinated mothers born in the same period, with an adjusted odds ratio of 0.60. The effect of maternal influenza vaccine on reducing prematurity was the highest for infants born during the period of widespread influenza activity, with 72% lower odds of prematurity in infants of vaccinated mothers than infants of unvaccinated mothers. Compared with newborns of unvaccinated women, babies of vaccinated mothers also had 69% lower odds of being small for gestational age during the period of widespread influenza activity, but the adjusted and unadjusted odd ratios were not significant for the pre-influenza activity period.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results show that there was an association between maternal immunization with the inactivated influenza vaccine during pregnancy and reduced likelihood of prematurity during local, regional, and widespread influenza activity periods. In addition, during the period of widespread influenza activity there was an negative association between maternal receipt of influenza vaccine and small for gestational age birth.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000441.
More information about influenza vaccination during pregnancy is available from the World Health Organization and the UK National Health Service
More information about the Georgia Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System is also available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000441
PMCID: PMC3104979  PMID: 21655318
16.  Injectable and Oral Contraceptive Use and Cancers of the Breast, Cervix, Ovary, and Endometrium in Black South African Women: Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001182.
A case-control study conducted in South Africa provides new estimates of the risk of specific cancers of the female reproductive system associated with use of injectable and oral contraceptives.
Background
Oral contraceptives are known to influence the risk of cancers of the female reproductive system. Evidence regarding the relationship between injectable contraceptives and these cancers is limited, especially in black South Africans, among whom injectable contraceptives are used more commonly than oral contraceptives.
Methods and Findings
We analysed data from a South African hospital-based case–control study of black females aged 18–79 y, comparing self-reported contraceptive use in patients with breast (n = 1,664), cervical (n = 2,182), ovarian (n = 182), and endometrial (n = 182) cancer, with self-reported contraceptive use in 1,492 control patients diagnosed with cancers with no known relationship to hormonal contraceptive use. We adjusted for potential confounding factors, including age, calendar year of diagnosis, education, smoking, alcohol, parity/age at first birth, and number of sexual partners. Among controls, 26% had used injectable and 20% had used oral contraceptives. For current and more recent users versus never users of oral or injectable contraceptives, the odds ratios (ORs) for breast cancer were significantly increased in users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.28–2.16, p<0.001) and separately among those exclusively using oral (1.57, 1.03–2.40, p = 0.04) and exclusively using injectable (OR 1.83, 1.31–2.55, p<0.001) contraceptives; corresponding ORs for cervical cancer were 1.38 (1.08–1.77, p = 0.01), 1.01 (0.66–1.56, p = 0.96), and 1.58 (1.16–2.15, p = 0.004). There was no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women ceasing hormonal contraceptive use ≥10 y previously (p = 0.3 and p = 0.9, respectively). For durations of use ≥5 y versus never use, the ORs of ovarian cancer were 0.60 (0.36–0.99, p = 0.04) for oral and/or injectable contraceptive use and 0.07 (0.01–0.49, p = 0.008) for injectable use exclusively; corresponding ORs for endometrial cancer were 0.44 (0.22–0.86, p = 0.02) and 0.36 (0.11–1.26, p = 0.1).
Conclusions
In this study, use of oral and of injectable hormonal contraceptives was associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer and, for long durations of use, with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. The observed effects of injectable and of oral contraceptives on cancer risk in this study did not appear to differ substantially.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Hormonal contraceptives are among the most commonly used medications. Globally, more than 210 million women currently use either hormonal contraceptive pills or injectable contraceptives. Contraceptive pills usually contain manmade versions of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone (the combined oral contraceptive, or “pill”); most injectable hormonal contraceptives contain only manmade progesterone preparations. Hormonal contraceptives, which prevent pregnancy by disrupting the cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone levels that prepare the body for pregnancy, have revolutionized birth control since they first became available in the early 1960s. However, it is now known that taking the pill also influences women's risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system. Current and recent users have an increased risk of developing breast and cervical cancer (the cervix is the structure that connects the womb to the vagina) compared to never users, although this increased risk quickly disappears when women stop taking the pill. By contrast, women who have used the pill have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer and cancer of the womb (endometrial cancer) compared to never users that increases with the duration of pill use and persists for many years after use ceases. These effects on reproductive system cancers are thought to occur because these cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the evidence that the pill influences the risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system is extensive, much less is known about how injectable hormonal contraceptives affect cancer risk. In this hospital-based case–control study (a study that compares the characteristics of people with and without a specific condition), the researchers investigate the relationship between the use of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives and cancers of the breast, cervix, ovary, and endometrium among black South African women. Injectable contraceptives have been used for longer in South Africa than elsewhere and are used more commonly than oral contraceptives among black South African women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
As part of the Johannesburg Cancer Case Control Study, which recruits black patients attending Johannesburg public referral hospitals for cancer treatment, the researchers compared hormonal contraceptive use in women with breast, cervical, ovarian, or endometrial cancer with contraceptive use in women diagnosed with other cancers such as lung, colon, and rectal cancers, which are not known to be influenced by hormonal contraceptives. Among the controls, a quarter had used injectable contraceptives and a fifth had used oral contraceptives. After adjusting for other factors that might influence cancer risk such as age, smoking, and number of sexual partners, the odds ratio (OR) of breast cancer among current and recent users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives compared to never users was 1.66. That is, the risk of developing breast cancer among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives was 1.66 times that among never users. For women using oral contraceptives exclusively or injectable contraceptives exclusively, the ORs of breast cancer were 1.57 and 1.83, respectively. There were also increases in cervical cancer risk among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives compared to never users, but no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women who had ceased hormonal contraceptive use more than ten years previously. Finally, the use of hormonal contraceptives for more than five years reduced the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among black women in South Africa, the use of oral or injectable hormonal contraceptives is associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and that extended use of these contraceptives is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. Moreover, they suggest that the effects of oral versus injectable contraceptives on cancer risk do not differ substantially, although for endometrial and ovarian cancer the small number of cases exposed to injectable contraceptives limits the accuracy of the risk estimates. Other limitations of this study include the possibility that the findings may be affected by uncontrolled confounding. That is, women who used hormonal contraceptives may have shared other unidentified characteristics that affected their cancer risk. Nevertheless, these findings provide new information about the effects of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives on cancer risk that should help women make informed decisions about their choice of contraceptive method.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182.
The US National Cancer Institute provides information on breast cancer (including personal stories from breast cancer survivors), cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer for patients and health professionals, and a fact sheet on oral contraceptives and cancer risk (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information on breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer and information about the birth control pill and cancer risk
Eyes on the Prize, an online support group for women who have had cancers of the female reproductive system, has personal stories; further personal stories about breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer are provided by the charity Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182
PMCID: PMC3295825  PMID: 22412354
17.  Two-Year Morbidity–Mortality and Alternatives to Prolonged Breast-Feeding among Children Born to HIV-Infected Mothers in Côte d'Ivoire 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(1):e17.
Background
Little is known about the long-term safety of infant feeding interventions aimed at reducing breast milk HIV transmission in Africa.
Methods and Findings
In 2001–2005, HIV-infected pregnant women having received in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, a peripartum antiretroviral prophylaxis were presented antenatally with infant feeding interventions: either artificial feeding, or exclusive breast-feeding and then early cessation from 4 mo of age. Nutritional counseling and clinical management were provided for 2 y. Breast-milk substitutes were provided for free. The primary outcome was the occurrence of adverse health outcomes in children, defined as validated morbid events (diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, or malnutrition) or severe events (hospitalization or death). Hazards ratios to compare formula-fed versus short-term breast-fed (reference) children were adjusted for confounders (baseline covariates and pediatric HIV status as a time-dependant covariate). The 18-mo mortality rates were also compared to those observed in the Ditrame historical trial, which was conducted at the same sites in 1995–1998, and in which long-term breast-feeding was practiced in the absence of any specific infant feeding intervention. Of the 557 live-born children, 262 (47%) were breast-fed for a median of 4 mo, whereas 295 were formula-fed. Over the 2-y follow-up period, 37% of the formula-fed and 34% of the short-term breast-fed children remained free from any adverse health outcome (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 1.10; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.87–1.38; p = 0.43). The 2-y probability of presenting with a severe event was the same among formula-fed (14%) and short-term breast-fed children (15%) (adjusted HR, 1.19; 95% CI, 0.75–1.91; p = 0.44). An overall 18-mo probability of survival of 96% was observed among both HIV-uninfected short-term and formula-fed children, which was similar to the 95% probability observed in the long-term breast-fed ones of the Ditrame trial.
Conclusions
The 2-y rates of adverse health outcomes were similar among short-term breast-fed and formula-fed children. Mortality rates did not differ significantly between these two groups and, after adjustment for pediatric HIV status, were similar to those observed among long-term breast-fed children. Given appropriate nutritional counseling and care, access to clean water, and a supply of breast-milk substitutes, these alternatives to prolonged breast-feeding can be safe interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in urban African settings.
Given appropriate nutritional counseling and care, access to clean water, and supply of breast milk substitutes, replacing prolonged breast-feeding with formula-feeding appears to be a safe intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in this setting.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The HIV virus can be transmitted from infected mothers to their babies during pregnancy and birth as well as after birth through breast milk. Mother-to-child transmission in developed countries has been all but eliminated by treatment of mothers with the best available combination of antiretroviral drugs and by asking them to avoid breast-feeding. However, in many developing countries, the best drug treatments are not available to mothers. Moreover, breast-feeding is generally the best nutritional choice for infants, especially in areas where resources such as clean water, formula feed, and provision of healthcare are scarce. And even if formula feed is available, formula-fed babies might be at higher risk of dying from diarrhea and chest infections, which are more common in infants who are not breast-fed. International guidelines say that HIV-positive mothers should avoid all breast-feeding and adopt formula feeding instead if this option is practical and safe for them, which would require that they can afford formula feed and have easy access to clean water. If formula-feeding is not feasible, guidelines recommend that mothers should breast-feed only for the first few months and then stop and switch the baby to solid food. One of these two alternative options should be feasible in most African cities if mothers are given the right support.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several completed and ongoing studies are assessing the relative risks and benefits of the two recommended strategies for different developing country locations, and this is one of them. The study, the “Ditrame Plus” trial by researchers from France and Côte d'Ivoire, was conducted in Abidjan, an urban West African setting. The goal was to compare death rates and rates of certain diseases (such as diarrhea and chest infections) between babies born to HIV-positive mothers that were formula-fed and those that were breast-fed for a short time after birth.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
HIV-positive pregnant women were invited to enter the study, and they received short-term drug treatments intended to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their babies. Women in the trial were then asked to choose one of the two feeding options and offered support and counseling for either one. This support included free formula, transport, and healthcare provision. Babies were followed up to their second birthday, and data were collected on death rates and any serious illnesses. A total of 643 women were enrolled into the study, and safety data were collected for 557 babies, of whom 295 were in the formula group and 262 were in the short-term breast-feeding group. The researchers corrected for HIV infection in the babies and found no evidence that the risk of other negative health outcomes and death rates was any different between the formula-fed babies and short-term breast-fed babies. Looking specifically at individual diseases, the researchers found that the risks for diarrhea and chest infections were slightly higher among formula-fed babies, but this did not translate into a greater risk of death or worse overall health. They also compared the death rates in this study with some historical data from a previous research project done in the same area on children born to HIV-positive mothers who had practiced long-term breast-feeding. The mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV had been much higher in that earlier trial, but looking only at the HIV-negative children, the researchers found no difference in risk for death or serious disease between the formula-fed or short-term breast-fed babies from the Ditrame Plus trial and the long-term breast-fed babies from the earlier trial.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study shows that if HIV-positive mothers are well supported, either of the two feeding options currently recommended (formula-only feed, or short-term breast-feeding) are likely to be equivalent in terms of the baby's chances for survival and health. However, women in this study were offered a great deal of support and the findings may not necessarily apply to real-life situations in other settings in Africa, or outside the context of a research project. In addition to routine care after birth, access to better drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission in developing countries remains an important goal.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040017.
Resources from Avert (an AIDS charity) on HIV and infant feeding.
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
Guidelines from the World Health Organization on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
AIDSMap pages on breast-feeding and HIV
HIV Care and PMTCT in Resource-Limited Setting contains monthly bulletins and a database devoted to HIV/AIDS infections and prevention of the mother-to-child transmission of HIV
The Ghent group is a network of researchers and policymakers in the area of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040017
PMCID: PMC1769413  PMID: 17227132
18.  Psychotic Illness in First-Time Mothers with No Previous Psychiatric Hospitalizations: A Population-Based Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(2):e1000013.
Background
Psychotic illness following childbirth is a relatively rare but severe condition with unexplained etiology. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of maternal background characteristics and obstetric factors on the risk of postpartum psychosis, specifically among mothers with no previous psychiatric hospitalizations.
Methods and Findings
We investigated incidence rates and potential maternal and obstetric risk factors of psychoses after childbirth in a national cohort of women who were first-time mothers from 1983 through 2000 (n = 745,596). Proportional hazard regression models were used to estimate relative risks of psychoses during and after the first 90 d postpartum, among mothers without any previous psychiatric hospitalization and among all mothers. Within 90 d after delivery, 892 women (1.2 per 1,000 births; 4.84 per 1,000 person-years) were hospitalized due to psychoses and 436 of these (0.6 per 1,000 births; 2.38 per 1,000 person-years) had not previously been hospitalized for any psychiatric disorder. During follow-up after the 90 d postpartum period, the corresponding incidence rates per 1,000 person-years were reduced to 0.65 for all women and 0.49 for women not previously hospitalized. During (but not after) the first 90 d postpartum the risk of psychoses among women without any previous psychiatric hospitalization was independently affected by: maternal age (35 y or older versus 19 y or younger; hazard ratio 2.4, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2 to 4.7); high birth weight (≥ 4,500 g; hazard ratio 0.3, 95% CI 0.1 to 1.0); and diabetes (hazard ratio 0).
Conclusions
The incidence of psychotic illness peaks immediately following a first childbirth, and almost 50% of the cases are women without any previous psychiatric hospitalization. High maternal age increases the risk while diabetes and high birth weight are associated with reduced risk of first-onset psychoses, distinctly during the postpartum period.
Unnur Valdimarsdóttir and colleagues studied the risk factors for psychiatric illness following childbirth and found that, for women who had never previously been hospitalized for a psychiatric illness, the risk of mental illness was greatly increased following childbirth.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The first cries of a new life echo around the delivery suite: this is a time of great joy for most women. Yet, in the following days and weeks (the postpartum period), up to 80% of new mothers experience some sort of mental disturbance. Usually, this is the “baby blues,” a normal reaction to childbirth that is characterized by short-lived mood swings or postnatal depression. However, about one in 1,000 women develop postpartum psychosis, a serious mental disorder that needs immediate medical attention. Postpartum psychosis usually develops suddenly in the first 2–3 weeks after delivery and, like other forms of psychosis, is characterized by a loss of contact with reality. Women with postpartum psychosis may have false ideas about current events and about themselves (delusions) and see and hear things that are not there (hallucinations). They sometimes stop eating or sleeping and may become anxious and agitated. In the worst cases, they can have suicidal thoughts or even threaten their baby's life. Treatment for postpartum psychosis includes antipsychotic drugs, counseling, and hospital admission if the woman is a danger to herself or others.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women with a personal or family history of psychosis have an increased risk of developing postpartum psychosis, but what causes this disorder is unknown. The rapid changes in hormone levels that occur after delivery are likely to be involved—but might social circumstances, stress, other illnesses, or the birth itself also affect whether a woman develops postpartum psychosis? If additional risk factors for postpartum psychosis could be identified, it might be possible to prevent some cases of this serious mental disorder. In this study, the researchers investigate the incidence rate (the rate at which new cases occur in a population) and risk factors for psychotic illnesses diagnosed among first-time mothers registered in the Swedish Medical Birth Registry between 1983 and 2000.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified three-quarters of a million first-time mothers and, from the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry, found that 892 of these women (1.2 per 1,000 births) had been admitted to hospital because of psychosis within 90 days of giving birth. Put another way, the incidence rate of psychosis over the first 90 days postpartum in this population was 4.84 per 1,000 person-years. Almost half of the women who developed postpartum psychosis had not been previously admitted to hospital for any psychiatric disorder. Among this subset of women, the incidence rate of postpartum psychosis was highest during the first month after delivery but dropped to less than a tenth of this initial rate after 90 days postpartum. Furthermore, the risk of developing psychosis during the first 90 days postpartum (but not after) increased with age—women older than 35 years were more than twice as likely to develop psychosis than those aged 19 years or less—but was reduced in women who had large babies or who had diabetes. Many other factors (including smoking and not living with the infant's father) did not affect the risk of psychosis during the first 90 days postpartum in these women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the occurrence of psychotic illness severe enough to require hospitalization peaks shortly after giving birth for the first time, even in women with no previous psychiatric illness. Indeed, women with no history of mental disorders account for almost half the women admitted to hospital for postpartum psychosis, at least in Sweden. The timing of the peak of postpartum psychosis supports the idea that either giving birth or the hormonal changes that occur shortly after may trigger the development of psychosis, and the findings that maternal diabetes and high infant birth weight reduce the risk of postpartum psychosis whereas increasing maternal age increases the risk provide new clues about the causes of postpartum psychosis. Most importantly, however, these findings highlight the importance of carefully monitoring women for psychosis during the first month after delivery.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000013.
This paper is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Phillipa Hay
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia contains a page on MedlinePlus encyclopedia psychosis (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus also provides links to information on psychotic disorders
The UK National Health Service Direct Health encyclopedia has information on psychosis and on postnatal depression
Mental Health America has a fact sheet on postpartum disorders
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000013
PMCID: PMC2637917  PMID: 19209952
19.  Preconceptional Folate Supplementation and the Risk of Spontaneous Preterm Birth: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000061.
In an analysis of a cohort of pregnant women, Radek Bukowski and colleagues describe an association between taking folic acid supplements and a reduction in the risk of preterm birth.
Background
Low plasma folate concentrations in pregnancy are associated with preterm birth. Here we show an association between preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
In a cohort of 34,480 low-risk singleton pregnancies enrolled in a study of aneuploidy risk, preconceptional folate supplementation was prospectively recorded in the first trimester of pregnancy. Duration of pregnancy was estimated based on first trimester ultrasound examination. Natural length of pregnancy was defined as gestational age at delivery in pregnancies with no medical or obstetrical complications that may have constituted an indication for delivery. Spontaneous preterm birth was defined as duration of pregnancy between 20 and 37 wk without those complications. The association between preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth was evaluated using survival analysis. Comparing to no supplementation, preconceptional folate supplementation for 1 y or longer was associated with a 70% decrease in the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 20 and 28 wk (41 [0.27%] versus 4 [0.04%] spontaneous preterm births, respectively; HR 0.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.08–0.61, p = 0.004) and a 50% decrease in the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 28 and 32 wk (58 [0.38%] versus 12 [0.18%] preterm birth, respectively; HR 0.45, 95% CI 0.24–0.83, p = 0.010). Adjustment for maternal characteristics age, race, body mass index, education, marital status, smoking, parity, and history of prior preterm birth did not have a material effect on the association between folate supplementation for 1 y or longer and spontaneous preterm birth between 20 and 28, and 28 to 32 wk (adjusted HR 0.31, 95% CI 0.11–0.90, p = 0.031 and 0.53, 0.28–0.99, p = 0.046, respectively). Preconceptional folate supplementation was not significantly associated with the risk of spontaneous preterm birth beyond 32 wk. The association between shorter duration (<1 y) of preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth was not significant after adjustment for maternal characteristics. However, the risk of spontaneous preterm birth decreased with the duration of preconceptional folate supplementation (test for trend of survivor functions, p = 0.01) and was the lowest in women who used folate supplementation for 1 y or longer. There was also no significant association with other complications of pregnancy studied after adjustment for maternal characteristics.
Conclusions
Preconceptional folate supplementation is associated with a 50%–70% reduction in the incidence of early spontaneous preterm birth. The risk of early spontaneous preterm birth is inversely proportional to the duration of preconceptional folate supplementation. Preconceptional folate supplementation was specifically related to early spontaneous preterm birth and not associated with other complications of pregnancy.
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks, but sometimes the new family member arrives early. Every year, half a million babies in the United States (12.5% of all babies) are born prematurely (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy). Sadly, premature babies are more likely to die than full-term babies and many have short- and/or long-term health problems. Premature babies often have breathing problems, they are susceptible to life-threatening infections, and they are more likely to have learning and developmental disabilities than those born on time. The severity of these health problems depends on the degree of prematurity—preterm babies born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy rarely develop severe disabilities, but a quarter of babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy develop serious lasting disabilities and half have learning and behavioral problems. Although doctors have identified some risk factors for early delivery (for example, smoking), it is impossible to predict who will have an early birth and there is no effective way to prevent preterm births.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some researchers think that folate supplements may prevent preterm births. Folate (folic acid), a vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and dried beans, helps to prevent neural tube birth defects. Consequently, women are encouraged to take folic acid supplements throughout (and preferably before) pregnancy and many governments now mandate that bread, pasta, and other grain products be fortified with folic acid to help women get sufficient folate. There is some evidence that women who deliver early have less folate in their blood than women who deliver at term. Furthermore, folate supplementation during pregnancy has increased the length of pregnancy in some but not all clinical trials. A possible explanation for these mixed results is that the duration of pregnancy reflects conditions in the earliest stages of pregnancy or before conception and that folate supplementation needs to start before conception to reduce the risk of preterm birth. In this study, the researchers test this idea by analyzing data collected from nearly 35,000 pregnant women enrolled in a study that was originally designed to investigate screening for Down's syndrome.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
During the first three months of their pregnancy, the women were asked whether they had taken folate supplements before conception. The duration of each pregnancy was estimated from ultrasound measurements taken early in the pregnancy and from the time of delivery. During the study, 1,658 women had spontaneous preterm deliveries before 37 weeks and 160 delivered before 32 weeks. After allowing for other maternal characteristics that might have affected the likelihood of preterm delivery, the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 20 and 28 weeks was 70% lower in women who took folate supplements for more than a year before becoming pregnant than in women who didn't take a supplement. Long-term folate supplementation also reduced the risk of preterm delivery between 28 and 32 weeks by 50% but did not affect the risk of preterm birth beyond 32 weeks. Folate supplementation for less than a year before conception did not reduce the risk of preterm birth, and folate supplementation was not associated with any other complications of pregnancy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that folate supplementation for a year or more before conception is associated with a 50%–70% decrease in early (but not late) spontaneous preterm births and that the longer a woman takes folate supplements before becoming pregnant, the lower her risk of a preterm birth. Although the researchers allowed for maternal characteristics that might have affected the duration of pregnancy, it is possible that folate supplementation may not be responsible for the reduction in preterm birth risk seen in this study. For example, taking folate supplements may be a marker of healthy behavior and the women taking the supplements might have been doing something else that was reducing their risk of preterm birth. However, despite this and other limitations of this study, these findings suggest that long-term folate supplementation before conception is worth investigating further as a potential way to prevent preterm births.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000061.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Nicholas Fisk
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on premature babies (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development provides information on preterm labor and birth
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth and on folic acid (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US Office of Dietary Supplements has a fact sheet on folate
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000061
PMCID: PMC2671168  PMID: 19434228
20.  Reproductive Outcomes Following Ectopic Pregnancy: Register-Based Retrospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001243.
Using Scottish national registry data, Sohinee Bhattacharya and colleagues investigate pregnancy outcomes following ectopic pregnancy in comparison to livebirth, miscarriage, or termination in a first pregnancy.
Background
We aimed to compare reproductive outcomes following ectopic pregnancy (EP) versus livebirth, miscarriage, or termination in a first pregnancy.
Methods And Findings
A retrospective cohort study design was used. Scottish national data on all women whose first pregnancy occurred between 1981 and 2000 were linked to records of a subsequent pregnancy. The exposed cohort comprised women with an EP in their first pregnancy. There were three unexposed cohorts: women with livebirth, miscarriage, and termination of their first pregnancies. Any differences in rates of second pregnancy, livebirth, EP, miscarriage, or terminations and complications of a second ongoing pregnancy and delivery were assessed among the different exposure groups. A total of 2,969 women had an initial EP; 667,299 had a livebirth, 39,705 women miscarried, and 78,697 terminated their first pregnancies. Women with an initial EP had an increased chance of another pregnancy within 2 years (adjusted hazard ratio (AHR) 2.76 [95% CI 2.58–2.95]) or after 6 years (AHR 1.57 [95% CI 1.29–1.91]) compared to women with a livebirth. In comparison with women with an initial miscarriage, women who had an EP had a lower chance of a second pregnancy (AHR 0.53 [95% CI 0.50–0.56]). Compared to women with an initial termination, women with an EP had an increased chance of a second pregnancy (AHR 2.38 [95% CI 2.23–2.55]) within 2 years. Women with an initial EP suffered an increased risk of another EP compared to women with a livebirth (AHR 13.0 [95% CI 11.63–16.86]), miscarriage (AHR 6.07 [95% CI 4.83–7.62]), or termination (AHR 12.84 [95% CI 10.07–16.37]). Perinatal complications in a pregnancy following EP were not significantly higher than those in primigravidae or in women with a previous miscarriage or termination.
Conclusion
Women with an initial EP have a lower chance of conception than those who miscarry but an increased risk of a repeat EP in comparison with all three comparison groups. A major limitation of this study was the inability to separate women using contraception from those who were intending to conceive.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo (fertilized egg) implants outside the uterine cavity, usually in the fallopian tubes but sometimes in the cervix, ovaries, or abdomen. The prevalence for this condition is between 1%–2% of all pregnancies, and risk factors are thought to include pelvic infection, smoking, previous pelvic surgery, and use of certain types of intrauterine contraceptive devices. Ectopic pregnancies are potentially life threatening because as the fetus grows, it can lead to tubal rupture and abdominal bleeding—for example, in the UK, ectopic pregnancies are responsible for almost three-quarters of early pregnancy-related deaths. However, due to improvements in early diagnosis, in high income countries, deaths from ectopic pregnancies have become increasingly rare.
Why Was This Study Done?
Having an ectopic pregnancy can have serious implications for future fertility and subsequent pregnancies but to date, there is little information on reproductive outcomes in women who have had an ectopic pregnancy. So in this study, the researchers used a population-based cohort of women in Scotland to examine future reproductive outcomes in women who had an initial ectopic pregnancy and then compare these outcomes to those in women following a successful (live birth) or unsuccessful (miscarriage or termination) intrauterine pregnancy.
What Did The Researchers Do And Find?
The researchers used a national database (The Scottish Morbidity Record) and hospital discharge information to identify women who had ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, terminations, or on-going pregnancies between 1981–2000. Then, using unique linking identifiers, they were able to examine the outcomes of subsequent pregnancies and conducted a statistical analysis to investigate whether the first pregnancy outcome had any effect on second pregnancy outcomes.
 The researchers found that during the time period studied, in their first pregnancy, 2,969 women had an ectopic pregnancy, 39,705 women miscarried, 78,697 women underwent termination, and the majority, 667,299, gave birth to a live infant. The researchers then found that compared to women with an initial live birth, women with an ectopic pregnancy were 2.76 times more likely to conceive a second pregnancy within two years. However, compared to women whose first pregnancies ended in miscarriage, women with an initial ectopic pregnancy were significantly less likely to conceive a second time but had an increased chance of a second pregnancy within two years compared to women who terminated their first pregnancy. Importantly, the researchers found that women with an initial ectopic pregnancy had a higher risk of a further ectopic pregnancy compared to all the other groups of women. Furthermore, these women had a significantly higher risk of preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and emergency cesarean delivery in their next continuing pregnancy compared to women who had a previous live birth. However, these risks were not significantly higher than women who had an early loss in a first pregnancy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that women with an initial ectopic pregnancy have a lower chance of conception than those who miscarry and also have an increased risk of a repeat ectopic pregnancy compared to women who experience miscarriage, termination, or a live birth in their first pregnancy. However, as the researchers did not have any information on contraception use, a major limitation of this study is the inability to separate women using contraception from those who were intending to conceive—women who experienced an ectopic pregnancy may not want to conceive again after a traumatic experience rather than being unable to conceive because of tubal damage. However, the results of this study may help doctors to counsel women with an ectopic pregnancy at the time of initial diagnosis and treatment, and in those willing to conceive again, offer follow-up to discuss future fertility and possible risks of subsequent pregnancy. Further research will help to investigate whether the site of ectopic pregnancy affects future reproductive outcomes.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001243.
The American Pregnancy Association and the UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices give information on ectopic pregnancy
The UK nonprofit organization Ectopic Pregnancy Trust provides support for individuals affected by ectopic pregnancy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001243
PMCID: PMC3378618  PMID: 22723747
21.  Pre-eclampsia in pregnancy and subsequent risk for breast cancer 
British Journal of Cancer  2002;87(9):971-973.
Women who experience pre-eclampsia or hypertension during pregnancy may have a reduced risk for breast cancer later in life. The evidence is based on case–control studies, and here we report the results of a cohort study exploring the link between pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension diagnosed in the first pregnancy and subsequent risk for breast cancer. We combined information from the Medical Birth Registry and the Cancer Registry in Norway, which are both nation-wide. Between 1967, when the birth registry was established, and 1998, 694 657 women were recorded with a first birth, and classified according to whether pre-eclampsia and/or hypertension was diagnosed in the first pregnancy. Linkage to the Norwegian Cancer Registry identified 5474 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed subsequently to their first delivery. Compared to other parous women, women with pre-eclampsia and/or hypertension diagnosed in their first pregnancy had 19% lower risk (95% confidence interval, 9 to 29%) for breast cancer, after adjustment for attained age, calendar period of diagnosis, age at first birth, and parity. This result was similar for term and preterm deliveries, across the range of offspring birth weight, and for pre- and postmenopausal women. These results suggest that the pathophysiology surrounding pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension plays an important role in breast cancer etiology. A better understanding of the underlying processes could provide an insight into the pathogenesis of breast cancer.
British Journal of Cancer (2002) 87, 971–973. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6600581 www.bjcancer.com
© 2002 Cancer Research UK
doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6600581
PMCID: PMC2364313  PMID: 12434286
pre-eclampsia; hypertension in pregnancy; breast cancer
22.  Association between Cutaneous Nevi and Breast Cancer in the Nurses' Health Study: A Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001659.
Using data from the Nurses' Health Study, Jiali Han and colleagues examine the association between number of cutaneous nevi and the risk for breast cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Cutaneous nevi are suggested to be hormone-related. We hypothesized that the number of cutaneous nevi might be a phenotypic marker of plasma hormone levels and predict subsequent breast cancer risk.
Methods and Findings
We followed 74,523 female nurses for 24 y (1986–2010) in the Nurses' Health Study and estimate the relative risk of breast cancer according to the number of cutaneous nevi. We adjusted for the known breast cancer risk factors in the models. During follow-up, a total of 5,483 invasive breast cancer cases were diagnosed. Compared to women with no nevi, women with more cutaneous nevi had higher risks of breast cancer (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio, 1.04, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.98–1.10 for 1–5 nevi; 1.15, 95% CI, 1.00–1.31 for 6–14 nevi, and 1.35, 95% CI, 1.04–1.74 for 15 or more nevi; p for continuous trend = 0.003). Over 24 y of follow-up, the absolute risk of developing breast cancer increased from 8.48% for women without cutaneous nevi to 8.82% (95% CI, 8.31%–9.33%) for women with 1–5 nevi, 9.75% (95% CI, 8.48%–11.11%) for women with 6–14 nevi, and 11.4% (95% CI, 8.82%–14.76%) for women with 15 or more nevi. The number of cutaneous nevi was associated with increased risk of breast cancer only among estrogen receptor (ER)–positive tumors (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio per five nevi, 1.09, 95% CI, 1.02–1.16 for ER+/progesterone receptor [PR]–positive tumors; 1.08, 95% CI, 0.94–1.24 for ER+/PR− tumors; and 0.99, 95% CI, 0.86–1.15 for ER−/PR− tumors). Additionally, we tested plasma hormone levels according to the number of cutaneous nevi among a subgroup of postmenopausal women without postmenopausal hormone use (n = 611). Postmenopausal women with six or more nevi had a 45.5% higher level of free estradiol and a 47.4% higher level of free testosterone compared to those with no nevi (p for trend = 0.001 for both). Among a subgroup of 362 breast cancer cases and 611 matched controls with plasma hormone measurements, the multivariable-adjusted odds ratio for every five nevi attenuated from 1.25 (95% CI, 0.89–1.74) to 1.16 (95% CI, 0.83–1.64) after adjusting for plasma hormone levels. Key limitations in this study are that cutaneous nevi were self-counted in our cohort and that the study was conducted in white individuals, and thus the findings do not necessarily apply to other populations.
Conclusions
Our results suggest that the number of cutaneous nevi may reflect plasma hormone levels and predict breast cancer risk independently of previously known factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
One woman in eight will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably (which leads to the formation of a lump in the breast) and to move around the body (metastasize). The treatment of breast cancer, which is diagnosed using mammography (a breast X-ray) or manual breast examination and biopsy, usually involves surgery to remove the lump, or the whole breast (mastectomy) if the cancer has started to metastasize. After surgery, women often receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and may also be given drugs that block the action of estrogen and progesterone, female sex hormones that stimulate the growth of some breast cancer cells. Globally, half a million women die from breast cancer each year. However, in developed countries, nearly 90% of women affected by breast cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several sex hormone–related factors affect breast cancer risk, including at what age a woman has her first child (pregnancy alters sex hormone levels) and her age at menopause, when estrogen levels normally drop. Moreover, postmenopausal women with high circulating levels of estrogen and testosterone (a male sex hormone) have an increased breast cancer risk. Interestingly, moles (nevi)—dark skin blemishes that are a risk factor for the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer—often darken or enlarge during pregnancy. Might the number of nevi be a marker of hormone levels, and could nevi counts therefore be used to predict an individual's risk of breast cancer? In this prospective cohort study, the researchers look for an association between number of nevi and breast cancer risk among participants in the US Nurses' Health Study (NHS). A prospective cohort study enrolls a group of people, determines their baseline characteristics, and follows them over time to see which characteristics are associated with the development of certain diseases. The NHS, which enrolled 121,700 female nurses aged 30–55 years in 1976, is studying risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases in women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1986, nearly 75,000 NHS participants (all of whom were white) reported how many nevi they had on their left arm. Over the next 24 years, 5,483 invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in these women. Compared to women with no nevi, women with increasing numbers of nevi had a higher risk of breast cancer after adjustment for known breast cancer risk factors. Specifically, among women with 1–5 nevi, the hazard ratio (HR) for breast cancer was 1.04, whereas among women with 15 or more nevi the HR was 1.35. An HR compares how often a particular event occurs in two groups with different characteristics; an HR greater than one indicates that a specific characteristic is associated with an increased risk of the event. Over 24 years of follow-up, the absolute risk of developing breast cancer was 8.48% in women with no nevi but 11.4% for women with 15 or more nevi. Notably, postmenopausal women with six or more nevi had higher blood levels of estrogen and testosterone than women with no nevi. Finally, in a subgroup analysis, the association between number of nevi and breast cancer risk disappeared after adjustment for hormone levels.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support the hypothesis that the number of nevi reflects sex hormone levels in women and may predict breast cancer risk. Notably, they show that the association between breast cancer risk and nevus number was independent of known risk factors for breast cancer, and that the risk of breast cancer increased with the number of nevi in a dose-dependent manner. These findings also suggest that a hormonal mechanism underlies the association between nevus number and breast cancer risk. Because this study involved only white participants, these findings may not apply to non-white women. Moreover, the use of self-reported data on nevus numbers may affect the accuracy of these findings. Finally, because this study is observational, these findings are insufficient to support any changes in clinical recommendations for breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Nevertheless, these data and those in an independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Kvaskoff et al. support the need for further investigation of the association between nevi and breast cancer risk and of the mechanisms underlying this relationship.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001659.
An independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Kvaskoff et al. also investigates the relationship between nevi and breast cancer risk
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer; it also has a fact sheet on moles
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
More information about the Nurses' Health Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001659
PMCID: PMC4051600  PMID: 24915186
23.  Uterine Rupture by Intended Mode of Delivery in the UK: A National Case-Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001184.
A case-control study using UK data estimates the risk of uterine rupture in subsequent deliveries amongst women who have had a previous caesarean section.
Background
Recent reports of the risk of morbidity due to uterine rupture are thought to have contributed in some countries to a decrease in the number of women attempting a vaginal birth after caesarean section. The aims of this study were to estimate the incidence of true uterine rupture in the UK and to investigate and quantify the associated risk factors and outcomes, on the basis of intended mode of delivery.
Methods and Findings
A UK national case-control study was undertaken between April 2009 and April 2010. The participants comprised 159 women with uterine rupture and 448 control women with a previous caesarean delivery. The estimated incidence of uterine rupture was 0.2 per 1,000 maternities overall; 2.1 and 0.3 per 1,000 maternities in women with a previous caesarean delivery planning vaginal or elective caesarean delivery, respectively. Amongst women with a previous caesarean delivery, odds of rupture were also increased in women who had ≥ two previous caesarean deliveries (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 3.02, 95% CI 1.16–7.85) and <12 months since their last caesarean delivery (aOR 3.12, 95% CI 1.62–6.02). A higher risk of rupture with labour induction and oxytocin use was apparent (aOR 3.92, 95% CI 1.00–15.33). Two women with uterine rupture died (case fatality 1.3%, 95% CI 0.2–4.5%). There were 18 perinatal deaths associated with uterine rupture among 145 infants (perinatal mortality 124 per 1,000 total births, 95% CI 75–189).
Conclusions
Although uterine rupture is associated with significant mortality and morbidity, even amongst women with a previous caesarean section planning a vaginal delivery, it is a rare occurrence. For women with a previous caesarean section, risk of uterine rupture increases with number of previous caesarean deliveries, a short interval since the last caesarean section, and labour induction and/or augmentation. These factors should be considered when counselling and managing the labour of women with a previous caesarean section.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Uterine rupture is a serious complication of pregnancy in which the wall of the uterus (womb) tears during pregnancy or early labor. Signs and symptoms of uterine rupture include fetal heart rate abnormalities, abdominal pain, and vaginal bleeding. If uterine rupture happens during labor, the woman must have an immediate caesarean section (surgical delivery of her baby) to save both her life and that of her baby. The woman's womb and nearby organs can be damaged at rupture or removed during surgery and she may need a blood transfusion because of severe bleeding. Moreover, her baby may develop respiratory distress syndrome and other life-threatening complications. In high income countries, uterine rupture most commonly occurs in women who have delivered a previous pregnancy by caesarean section. In a caesarean section, the baby is delivered through a cut made through the abdominal wall and the uterine wall. The stretching that occurs during pregnancy or the strong contractions of labor can tear the scar left by this cut, resulting in uterine rupture.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women who have had a caesarean delivery are generally encouraged to try to deliver subsequent babies vaginally. However, recent reports of an increased risk of complications (morbidity) and death (mortality) due to uterine rupture are thought to reduce women's willingness to attempt vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) in some countries. In the UK, for example, where one in four babies is delivered by caesarean section, a previous caesarean delivery is one of commonest reasons for a repeat section. Obstetricians (doctors who care for women during child birth) need to know as much as possible about the incidence of uterine rupture and about the risk factors for it so that they can advise women who have had a previous caesarean section about their delivery options. In this national case-control study (a study that compares the characteristics of people with and without a specific condition), the researchers estimate the incidence of uterine rupture in the UK by intended mode of delivery and investigate and quantify the risk factors for and outcomes of uterine rupture.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) to identify all the women in the UK who had a uterine rupture over a 13-month period (159 women, 139 of whom had had a previous caesarean delivery). Controls for the study were women who had not had a uterine rupture but who had previously delivered by caesarean section. Overall, the incidence of uterine rupture was 0.2 per 1,000 maternities. In women with a previous caesarean delivery, 2.1 and 0.3 per 1,000 maternities ended in uterine rupture in women planning vaginal delivery and caesarean delivery, respectively. Amongst women who had had a previous caesarean delivery, the risk of uterine rupture was greater among those who had had two or more previous caesarean deliveries or a caesarean delivery less than 12 months previously, or whose labor was induced. Two women died following uterine rupture (a case fatality of 1.3%) and 18 babies died around the time of birth (a perinatal mortality rate of 124 per 1,000 live births; the UK perinatal mortality rate is 7.5 per 1,000 live births). 15 of the women who had a uterine rupture had their womb removed, 10 had other organs damaged, and nearly half had other complications; 19 of the surviving babies had health problems.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in the UK, although uterine rupture is associated with significant mortality and morbidity, it is a rare occurrence even among women who have had a previous caesarean delivery and are planning a vaginal delivery. They also indicate that, for women who have previously had a caesarean section, the risk of rupture increases with the number of previous caesarean deliveries, with a short interval since the last caesarean section, and with labor induction. Although the researchers may not have identified all the women who had a uterine rupture during the study period or may have identified only the worst cases, these findings provide valuable information about the factors that obstetricians need to consider when advising women who have previously had a caesarean section and when managing their labor.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001184.
This study is linked to a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Caroline Crowther and a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Catherine Spong
Wikipedia has a page on uterine rupture (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has information sheets for patients on caesarean sections and on vaginal birth after caesarean delivery
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK has information for women on birth after previous caesarean
Childbirth Connection, a US-based not-for-profit organization, provides information about caesarean sections and about vaginal birth after caesarean
The National Childbirth Trust, a UK charity, provides information for parents on all aspects of pregnancy and birth, including caesarean sections and vaginal birth after caesarean delivery
The UK charity Healthtalkonline has personal stories from women making decisions about birth after a caesarean section
A personal story of uterine rupture during an attempted VBAC is available
The UK Obstetric Surveillance System studies rare disorders of pregnancy in the UK
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001184
PMCID: PMC3302846  PMID: 22427745
24.  Cesarean Section and Rate of Subsequent Stillbirth, Miscarriage, and Ectopic Pregnancy: A Danish Register-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001670.
Louise Kenny and colleagues conduct a population-based cohort study in Denmark to assess the likelihood of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following cesarean section compared to women who gave birth by vaginal delivery.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
With cesarean section rates increasing worldwide, clarity regarding negative effects is essential. This study aimed to investigate the rate of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following primary cesarean section, controlling for confounding by indication.
Methods and Findings
We performed a population-based cohort study using Danish national registry data linking various registers. The cohort included primiparous women with a live birth between January 1, 1982, and December 31, 2010 (n = 832,996), with follow-up until the next event (stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy) or censoring by live birth, death, emigration, or study end. Cox regression models for all types of cesarean sections, sub-group analyses by type of cesarean, and competing risks analyses for the causes of stillbirth were performed. An increased rate of stillbirth (hazard ratio [HR] 1.14, 95% CI 1.01, 1.28) was found in women with primary cesarean section compared to spontaneous vaginal delivery, giving a theoretical absolute risk increase (ARI) of 0.03% for stillbirth, and a number needed to harm (NNH) of 3,333 women. Analyses by type of cesarean section showed similarly increased rates for emergency (HR 1.15, 95% CI 1.01, 1.31) and elective cesarean (HR 1.11, 95% CI 0.91, 1.35), although not statistically significant in the latter case. An increased rate of ectopic pregnancy was found among women with primary cesarean overall (HR 1.09, 95% CI 1.04, 1.15) and by type (emergency cesarean, HR 1.09, 95% CI 1.03, 1.15, and elective cesarean, HR 1.12, 95% CI 1.03, 1.21), yielding an ARI of 0.1% and a NNH of 1,000 women for ectopic pregnancy. No increased rate of miscarriage was found among women with primary cesarean, with maternally requested cesarean section associated with a decreased rate of miscarriage (HR 0.72, 95% CI 0.60, 0.85). Limitations include incomplete data on maternal body mass index, maternal smoking, fertility treatment, causes of stillbirth, and maternally requested cesarean section, as well as lack of data on antepartum/intrapartum stillbirth and gestational age for stillbirth and miscarriage.
Conclusions
This study found that cesarean section is associated with a small increased rate of subsequent stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy. Underlying medical conditions, however, and confounding by indication for the primary cesarean delivery account for at least part of this increased rate. These findings will assist women and health-care providers to reach more informed decisions regarding mode of delivery.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Globally, increasing numbers of babies are being delivered by cesarean section (a surgical operation in which the baby is delivered through a cut made in the mother's abdomen and womb) instead of naturally through their mother's vagina. In England in 2010, for example, nearly 25% of all babies were delivered by cesarean section (also called C-section) compared to only 2% in the 1950s; in China and some parts of South America cesarean rates are now between 40% and 50%. A cesarean section is usually performed when a vaginal birth would endanger the life of the mother or her unborn child because, for example, the baby is in the wrong position. Some cesareans are performed as emergency procedures, but others are planned in advance when the need for the operation becomes clear during pregnancy (an elective cesarean). Some planned cesarean sections are also undertaken because the mother has requested a cesarean delivery in the absence of any medical reasons for such a delivery.
Why Was This Study Done?
Cesarean sections save lives but do they have any negative impacts on the outcome of subsequent pregnancies? With so many cesarean sections being undertaken, it is important to be sure that the procedure does not increase the rates of subsequent miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy. Miscarriage—the loss of a fetus (developing baby) that is unable to survive independently—is the commonest complication of early pregnancy, affecting about one in five women who know they are pregnant. Stillbirth is fetal death after about 20–24 weeks of pregnancy; the exact definition of stillbirth varies between countries. About four million stillbirths occur each year worldwide. Ectopic pregnancy—development of the fetus outside the womb—occurs in 1%–2% of all pregnancies. In this population-based cohort study, the researchers investigate the rates of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following a cesarean section among women living in Denmark. A population-based cohort study determines the baseline characteristics of the individuals in a population, and then follows the population over time to see whether specific characteristics are associated with specific outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data for 832,996 women from Danish national registers about their first live birth (including whether they had a cesarean) then followed the women (again using the registers) until they had a stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy, or a second live birth. The researchers used these data and statistical models to estimate the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following a cesarean compared to a spontaneous vaginal delivery after controlling for the possibility that the cesarean was performed because of an indication that might increase the risk of a subsequent event (confounding). Women who had had a cesarean had a 14% increased risk of a stillbirth in their next pregnancy compared to women who had had a vaginal delivery, corresponding to an absolute risk increase of 0.03%. In other words, 3,333 women would need to have a cesarean to result in one extra stillbirth in subsequent pregnancy (a “number needed to harm” of 3,333). Compared to vaginal delivery, having a cesarean increased the risk of a subsequent ectopic pregnancy by 9% (an absolute risk increase of 0.1% and a number needed to harm of 1,000) but did not increase the rate of subsequent miscarriages.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among women living in Denmark, cesarean section is associated with a slightly increased rate of subsequent stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy. Part of this increase can be accounted for by underlying medical conditions and by confounding by the indication for the primary cesarean section. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by limitations in the study such as incomplete data on some factors (for example, the smoking history of the mother) that might have affected the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy, and by misclassification or underreporting of the study outcomes. Given the global increase in cesarean rates, these findings suggest that cesarean delivery is not associated with an increased rate of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy, an important finding for both expectant mothers and health-care professionals that nonetheless needs to be confirmed in further large-scale studies. Finally, these findings highlight the need for women to consider all their options thoroughly before requesting a cesarean section on non-medical grounds.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001670.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides patient fact sheets on cesarean birth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy
The US-based non-profit Nemours Foundation provides information about cesarean sections, miscarriage and stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients about cesarean section, miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about cesarean section, miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The UK non-profit organization Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about cesarean delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001670
PMCID: PMC4077571  PMID: 24983970
25.  Association between Melanocytic Nevi and Risk of Breast Diseases: The French E3N Prospective Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001660.
Using data from the French E3N prospective cohort, Marina Kvaskoff and colleagues examine the association between number of cutaneous nevi and the risk for breast cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
While melanocytic nevi have been associated with genetic factors and childhood sun exposure, several observations also suggest a potential hormonal influence on nevi. To test the hypothesis that nevi are associated with breast tumor risk, we explored the relationships between number of nevi and benign and malignant breast disease risk.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively analyzed data from E3N, a cohort of French women aged 40–65 y at inclusion in 1990. Number of nevi was collected at inclusion. Hazard ratios (HRs) for breast cancer and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated using Cox proportional hazards regression models. Associations of number of nevi with personal history of benign breast disease (BBD) and family history of breast cancer were estimated using logistic regression. Over the period 15 June 1990–15 June 2008, 5,956 incident breast cancer cases (including 5,245 invasive tumors) were ascertained among 89,902 women. In models adjusted for age, education, and known breast cancer risk factors, women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (HR = 1.13, 95% CI = 1.01–1.27 versus “none”; ptrend = 0.04), although significance was lost after adjustment for personal history of BBD or family history of breast cancer. The 10-y absolute risk of invasive breast cancer increased from 3,749 per 100,000 women without nevi to 4,124 (95% CI = 3,674–4,649) per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi. The association was restricted to premenopausal women (HR = 1.40, ptrend = 0.01), even after full adjustment (HR = 1.34, ptrend = 0.03; phomogeneity = 0.04), but did not differ according to breast cancer type or hormone receptor status. In addition, we observed significantly positive dose–response relationships between number of nevi and history of biopsy-confirmed BBD (n = 5,169; ptrend<0.0001) and family history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives (n = 7,472; ptrend = 0.0003). The main limitations of our study include self-report of number of nevi using a qualitative scale, and self-reported history of biopsied BBD.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest associations between number of nevi and the risk of premenopausal breast cancer, BBD, and family history of breast cancer. More research is warranted to elucidate these relationships and to understand their underlying mechanisms.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2012, nearly 1.7 million women worldwide discovered they had breast cancer, and about half a million women died from the disease. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). Uncontrolled cell division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump, or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Because the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of some tumors, drugs that block hormone receptors are also used to treat receptor-positive breast cancer. Nowadays, the prognosis (outlook) for women with breast cancer is good, and in developed countries, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several hormone-related factors affect a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. For example, women who have no children or who have them late in life have a higher breast cancer risk than women who have several children when they are young because pregnancy alters sex hormone levels. Interestingly, the development of moles (nevi)—dark skin blemishes that are risk factors for the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer—may also be affected by estrogen and progesterone. Thus, the number of nevi might be a marker of blood hormone levels and might predict breast cancer risk. In this prospective cohort study, the researchers test this hypothesis by investigating the association between how many moles a woman has and her breast cancer risk. A prospective cohort study enrolls a group (cohort) of people, determines their baseline characteristics, and follows them over time to see which characteristics are associated with the development of specific diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1990, the E3N prospective cohort study enrolled nearly 100,000 French women (mainly school teachers) aged 40–65 years to investigate cancer risk factors. The women completed a baseline questionnaire about their lifestyle and medical history, and regular follow-up questionnaires that asked about cancer occurrence. In the initial questionnaire, the women indicated whether they had no, a few, many, or very many moles. Between 1990 and 2008, nearly 6,000 women in the cohort developed breast cancer. Using statistical methods to calculate hazard ratios (an “HR” compares how often a particular event happens in two groups with different characteristics; an HR greater than one indicates that a specific characteristic is associated with an increased risk of the event), the researchers report that women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (a higher risk that was unlikely to have occurred by chance) than women with no nevi. Specifically, the age-adjusted HR for breast cancer among women with “very many” nevi compared to women with no nevi was 1.17. After adjustment for a personal history of benign (noncancerous) breast disease and a family history of breast cancer (two established risk factors for breast cancer), the association between nevi and breast cancer risk among the whole cohort became nonsignificant. Notably, however, the association among only premenopausal women remained significant after full adjustment (HR = 1.34), which corresponded to an increase in ten-year absolute risk of invasive breast cancer from 2,515 per 100,000 women with no nevi to 3,370 per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that among premenopausal women there is a modest association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. This noncausal relationship may indicate that nevi and breast diseases are affected in similar ways by hormones or share common genetic factors, but the accuracy of these findings may be limited by aspects of the study design. For example, self-report of nevi numbers using a qualitative scale may have introduced some inaccuracies into the estimates of the association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. Most importantly, these findings are insufficient to support the use of nevi counts in breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Rather, together with the findings reported by Zhang et al. in an independent PLOS Medicine Research Article, they suggest that further studies into the biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between nevi and breast cancer and the association itself should be undertaken.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Fuhrman and Cardenas
An independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Zhang et al. also investigates the relationship between nevi number and breast cancer risk
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer; it also has a fact sheet on moles
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
More information about the E3N prospective cohort study is available; detailed information is available in French
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660
PMCID: PMC4051602  PMID: 24915306

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