Children with birth defects are between two and 12 times more at risk of developing a childhood cancer, new research suggests.
Scientists have long recognized the link between birth defects related to genetic material in chromosomes and childhood cancers
A new study of over 10 million births, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine, uncovered a nearly unambiguous link, showing that children with non-chromosomal birth defects are at a fourfold risk of getting cancer before age 18.
Children born with birth defects of unclear origin are at a 2.5-fold higher risk of pediatric cancer and those with chromosomal, genetic defects are at 11.6-fold higher risk
A birth defect is born every four and a half minutes in the US
'Birth defect' is a catch-all term for and a wide range of abnormalities ties.
It includes any difference to the structure of any part of a baby's body, which could be anything from a slightly misshapen toe to extensive brain changes.
These defects have an identifiable cause of about 30 percent of the time.
For the other 70 percent of birth defects, doctors have to send distressed and confused parents away with no clear explanation.
And children who suffer from these birth defects are indeed at higher risk of cancer, according to a new study published today in JAMA Oncology.
The Baylor College of Medicine analyzed data on over 10 million live births, of which 2,123 had birth defects that were not explained by chromosomal abnormalities.
The small proportion of children born with non-chromosomal defects was 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer before their 18th birthdays.
Such defects would not raise their risks as much as chromosomal defects would have – children born with these abnormalities are 11.6 times more at risk for pediatric cancers, the study found – but they make a significant difference.
Depending on the type and number of birth defects, the cancer that children are at risk of developing varies too.
Down's syndrome, and chromosomal abnormalities, have long been linked to a 20-fold increased risk for a particular kind of leukemia.
According to the editorial accompanying the new study, scientists believe that most childhood cancers actually begin to develop while a child is still in the womb.
For this reason, they also believe that cancers and birth defects may share genesis during fetal development.
The new study backed that notion up, says Dr. Philip Lupo, and a pediatric oncologist at Baylor and co-author of the study.
'I was struck with the type of cancers we would see with non-chromosomal defects: neuroblastoma and hepatoblastoma,' he says.
'It's notable because [these] cells have embryonic origins.
'It is not surprising that we may see tumors in embryonic cells being associated with birth defects that are non-chromosomal.'
It did not matter what organ systems or body part and child's non-chromosomal defects affected, their cancer risks were fairly uniform though those with hearing and craniofacial abnormalities had higher rates of neuroblastoma.
On the other hand, sarcoma and osteosarcoma were not strongly associated with birth defects.
By identifying the overlap between these two conditions, we hope we will get more insight into how they happen and what could be the common genes, "says Dr. Lupo.
'Even in the absence of known chromosomal anomalies, it does not mean it's not genetic, it just means we do not know what those genes are. that does not mean they're not genetic. "
Although it is not a genetic risk, these children are individually at risk.
'The good news is that childhood cancer is very rare,' said Dr Lupo.
Even though we may see an elevated relative risk in children in this study, their likelihood of developing cancer is still very small. cancers with developmental origin, and perhaps even towards combating birth defects.
'By digging into some of these patterns, what we hope to find are new clues as to why they occur,' says Dr Lupo.
'If we study these, we can learn more about childhood cancer but about birth defects.'