Cancer risk and advanced maternal age

August 5, 2009 by  
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mom-and-childThe trend among women nowadays is to put off having children as late as possible. A lot of factors contribute to this trend. One of these is something to do with the changing role of women in society and how they have to combine career and motherhood. The result is the term called “advanced maternal age” and I have to admit I am one of these “old mommies.”

Women have always been warned that advanced maternal age comes with health risks both mom and baby. Some of these are difficult pregnancy, increased risk for pregnancy complication, increased risk for chromosomal and genetic aberrations for the baby. With advances in medicine, however, many of these risks can be predicted and minimized.

Researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center report about discovering another health risk for children of women of advanced age – increased risk for childhood cancer.

The most common forms of childhood cancer are:

  • leukaemia
  • lymphoma
  • central nervous system tumor
  • neuroblastoma
  • Wilms’ tumor
  • bone cancer
  • soft tissue sarcoma.

The likelihood of children under 15 having one of these diseases is 1 in 435. The odds, however, seem to be higher in children of older mommies.

The researchers conducted a population-base study on children aged 0 to 14 years of age from the states of New York, Washington, Minnesota, Texas, and California. 17,672 children diagnosed with cancer and 57,966 who were not were included in the study.

The study showed that there is a slight but still significant increase in the risk for childhood cancers among children of moms with advanced age. For every five-year increase in maternal age, there was 7 to 10% increase in the likelihood of developing 7 of the 10 most common childhood cancers before the age of 15. The age of the father, however, does not seem to play a significant role.

According to

The researchers, led by head author Dr. Logan Spector believe this has something to do with “age-related changes in hormonal levels during pregnancy and alterations in DNA markings in eggs that can be transmitted to the offspring.”

“A mechanism of inherited mutation is consistent with our finding that the maternal age effect was strongest among children diagnosed with cancer at the earliest age.”

Studies such as these are becoming more relevant because of the current trends of having kids later. In the US alone, babies born to mothers 30 years old and older increased from 18% in 1970 to 37% in 2005.

Should moms like me be worried? I don’t think so. Maternal age may play a role in cancer development in children but it is not the only factor. Who says life is without risks?

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