Slightly Higher Risk of Birth Defects for Children of Survivors

Posted on February 28th, 2011 by

Children whose fathers have a history of cancer may have a slightly increased risk of birth defects compared with children whose fathers have not had cancer. These findings were recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

As increasingly more people survive cancer, concerns are growing about the long-term effects of the disease and treatment. One particular consideration is the health of babies born to survivors. Survivors may be at risk of medical conditions such as infertility, heart disease, and other cancers, leading researchers to question whether the health of their children may also be affected. As well, researchers have questioned whether the method of conception—natural versus assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), such as in vitro fertilization—may increase risk of birth defects.

To investigate the health of children born to cancer survivors, researchers recently evaluated 8,670 children in Denmark and Sweden whose fathers had a history of cancer. Their health was compared with that of children whose fathers had not had cancer. Of the children born to male cancer survivors, 8,162 were conceived naturally and 508 were conceived using ARTs.

Children whose fathers had had cancer had a modest but statistically significant increased risk of birth defects compared with children whose fathers had not had cancer (3.7% versus 3.2%, respectively). There appeared to be no increased risk of birth defects associated with the use of ARTs among children of male cancer survivors.

An accompanying editorial describes the findings as “overall quite reassuring,” but notes that more research into this topic is warranted. The editorial also points out that the results of the current study differ from several previous studies which did not find an increased risk of birth defects among children of male cancer survivors. .

References:
Ståhl O, Boyd HA, Giwercman A, et al. Risk of birth abnormalities in the offspring of men with a history of cancer: a cohort study using Danish and Swedish national registries. Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. February 8, 2011.

Signorello LB, Friedman DL, Boice JD. Congenital abnormalities: a legacy of cancer treatment?  Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. February 8, 2011.

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