Many proliferative, invasive, and immune tolerance mechanisms that support normal human pregnancy are also exploited by malignancies to establish a nutrient supply and evade or edit the host immune response. In addition to the shared capacity for invading through normal tissues, both cancer cells and cells of the developing placenta create a microenvironment supportive of both immunologic privilege and angiogenesis. Systemic alterations in immunity are also detectable, particularly with respect to a helper T cell type 2 polarization evident in advanced cancers and midtrimester pregnancy. This review summarizes the similarities between growth and immune privilege in cancer and pregnancy and identifies areas for further investigation. Our PubMed search strategy included combinations of terms such as immune tolerance, pregnancy, cancer, cytokines, angiogenesis, and invasion. We did not place any restrictions on publication dates. The knowledge gained from analyzing similarities and differences between the physiologic state of pregnancy and the pathologic state of cancer could lead to identification of new potential targets for cancer therapeutic agents.
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