Children born with non-chromosomal birth defects have an increased risk of 2.6-fold of developing certain types of cancer than those without birth defects.

A population-based assessment presented on April 15 at the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago reported that cancer risks are higher in children born with non-chromosomal birth defects such as congenital heart disease and abnormalities in the central nervous system.

Childhood Cancers

Researchers examined birth certificates, birth defect records, and cancer registries from Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Arkansas from 1992 to 2013 to establish a relationship between 60 birth defects and 31 pediatric cancers. Researchers identified the most common forms of cancer as hepatoblastoma, astrocytoma, ependymoma, and extracranial germ cell tumor.

"Our findings suggest that children with non-chromosomal birth defects have a significantly elevated risk of several childhood cancers. These findings may inform research into the etiologies of childhood cancer, as well as new cancer surveillance protocols for children with non-chromosomal birth defects," the researchers reported.

However, lead author Dr. Jeremy Schraw cautioned that the majority of birth defects in their study will not necessarily translate to childhood cancer.

"The limitation of the study is that is cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship between birth defects and childhood cancers and there is no data on time period between birth and cancer diagnosis. It is too soon to make recommendations based on this information," Schraw said.

In a similar study in 2017 published in the journal PLOS One, researchers identified physical and biological anomalies that could lead to pediatric cancer. Major abnormalities include spina bifida, cleft lip palate, and Down Syndrome. Minor anomalies include low set ears and epicanthal folds.

Mortality Rates

More than 15,000 Americans aged 0 to 19 years were estimated to have some form of pediatric cancer, as published by the National Cancer Institute of the NIH. Out of this, 1,790 were projected to die from the disease. For children aged 0 to 14 years, 10,270 were expected to be diagnosed with cancer, and 1,190 were expected to die from the disease.

Treatments for childhood cancers have dramatically improved over the 50-year period since the 1960s. Survival rates of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia increased from less than 10 percent to roughly 88 percent based on data gathered from 2007 to 2013. The same is true for patients below 20 years old with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, whose five-year survival rate increased to about 89 percent in the same time period from less than 50 percent in the 1970s.

Pediatric cancers pose a great financial burden to the patients' families. Another study published 2015 in the Journal of Oncology Practice, was found that mothers tend to quit or postpone their jobs after their child's diagnosis.

It is also notable that financial distress in the family occurred after the first year of therapy. The researchers attributed the delay to optimism about their child's prognosis, which left them blindsided about financial expectations.

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