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The Link Between Larger Birth Weight And Cancer Risk

In a recent study that looked at how in utero exposures affect the risk of certain diseases in adulthood researchers say, larger babies // have a higher risk of developing certain cancers in adult life.

Researchers 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. Thus 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 and 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.

However there was no evidence of associations with other cancer sites including prostate cancer in men. In conclusion 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.

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