Texas Researchers Link Birth Defects To Childhood Cancers

Children born with birth defects have a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer before age 18, according to a study by Texas researchers.

The large, population-based registry study of more than 10 million children in four states identified 40 specific and statistically significant links between certain birth defects and childhood cancer, concluding that 10% of childhood cancers could be tied to birth defects. The study by the researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston was published in JAMA Oncology.

Birth defects affect about 1 in 33 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some birth defects are known to be strongly associated with childhood cancer. But previous studies have been limited by insufficient sample sizes.

The Baylor study examined data on nearly 10.2 million children born from 1992 to 2013 in Texas, Arkansas, Michigan and North Carolina. The researchers looked for links in birth defects registries to birth certificates, cancer registries to birth certificates, and birth defects registries to corresponding cancer registries, according to a Medpage Today article. The children were followed for up to 18 years for a diagnosis of cancer.

Of the children, 539,567 were born with a birth defect, and 15,110 were diagnosed with cancer. The increased risk for cancer seen in patients with chromosomal and nonchromosomal birth defects was similar across all racial subgroups, the study reported. The nonchromosomal defects with the highest risk for cancer were biliary atresia and spina bifida.

Children born with chromosomal anomalies were at more than 11 times greater risk and those born with nonchromosomal birth defects were at 2.5 times greater risk for being diagnosed with cancer before age 18 compared with children born without any birth defects, the study found. The risk for cancer increased with an increasing number of such birth defects, with children with four or more major birth defects about six times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.

Among children with chromosomal anomalies, the research confirmed associations in previous studies, according to Medpage Today. For example, there were five associations between chromosomal anomalies or single-gene disorders and childhood cancers: hepatoblastoma among children with trisomy 18; acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia among children with trisomy 21, or Down syndrome; and astrocytoma and non-rhabdomyosarcoma soft-tissue sarcoma among children with neurofibromatosis.

Cancers most commonly associated in children with nonchromosomal defects were hepatoblastoma and neuroblastoma, the study found.

Nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year, according to the CDC. Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body, such as heart, brain or foot. They may affect how the body looks, works or both. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe.

Birth defects can be caused by a number of factors, and can be influenced by genetic or hereditary factors, infection during pregnancy, or exposure to drugs or chemicals during pregnancy. To help prevent birth defects, the Cleveland Clinic suggests these tips:

  • See your healthcare provider consistently.
  • If you are trying to conceive, or if you are sexually active and not using contraception, take a prenatal vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.
  • Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think you’re pregnant.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about any medications and supplements you’re taking.
  • Avoid marijuana and illegal drugs.

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