Bigger Babies at Risk for Cancer
Reported February 11, 2005
— Recently, much research has been conducted to look at how in utero exposures affect the risk of certain diseases in adulthood. Now, a Swedish study shows larger babies have a higher risk of developing certain cancers in adult life.
Study authors say associations between larger birth weight and increased rates of adult cancer have been proposed, but there have been few studies to examine this hypothesis.
They set out to collect details on maternal age, gestational age, birth order, birth weight, placental weight, birth length, and head circumference on 11,166 babies born between 1915 and 1929. They were then followed up for 40 years in their adult life.
Twenty-four percent of the participants were diagnosed with cancer between 1960 and 2001. Researchers found larger birth size was associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Specifically, an increase in birth weight of 450 grams, or about .99 pounds, was associated with a 17-percent increase in lymphatic cancers and a 13-percent increase in digestive cancers including stomach, colorectal and pancreatic. Women who had higher birth weights also had increased rates of breast cancer under age 50, but had reduced rates of endometrial cancer at all ages.
There was no evidence of associations with other cancer sites including prostate cancer in men.
Researchers say some of their findings may have arisen by chance, but they say it is plausible that the associations between birth weight and adult cancer are related to some aspects of the fetal environment or the number of cells at risk for carcinogenesis.
SOURCE: International Journal of Cancer, published online Feb. 7, 2005