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Risk of childhood cancer increases slightly with mother’s age, study finds

A baby born to an older mother may face an increased risk for some cancers that occur during childhood, according to research from the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

“We saw that the risk of 7 of the 10 most common childhood cancers increased slightly, about 7 to 10 percent, with every 5-year increase in maternal age,” says Logan Spector, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and a cancer epidemiologist, who led the research along with postdoctoral fellow Kimberly Johnson, Ph.D.

Currently about 1 in 435 children under age 15 in the United States gets cancer, according to the study. The cancers that most commonly affect children include leukemia, lymphoma, central nervous system tumor, neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, bone cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma.

Spector and Johnson note that although the absolute risk that children of older mothers will get cancer is still low, more research needs to be done on why the risk of childhood cancer increases with advancing maternal age. Some of the possible explanations could be age-related changes in hormone levels during pregnancy and alterations in DNA markings in eggs that can be transmitted to the offspring.

The researchers also noted that the father’s age did not seem to matter once the mother’s age was taken into account.

The results were published in the July 2009 issue of the journal Epidemiology.

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