Folic acid may reduce some childhood cancers, US research findings

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 22nd May 2012

Folic acid fortification of foods may reduce the incidence of the most common type of kidney cancer and a type of brain tumors in children, according to new research from Washington University and the University of Minnesota.

The study, published in the current issue of Pediatrics, examined the incidence of childhood cancer pre- and post-mandated folic acid fortification.

Since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated fortification of foods with folic acid because earlier studies show that prenatal consumption of folic acid significantly reduces the incidence of neural tube defects in babies.

The study’s authors, Professor Kimberly Johnson and Dr Amy Linabery said their research found incidence reductions for Wilms’ tumor, a type of kidney cancer, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET), a type of brain cancer.

“Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States,” Professor Johnson said.

The study found that that Wilms’ tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1997 and decreased thereafter – a downward trend that coincides with folic acid fortification at the same time.

Professor Johnson said, “PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter. This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.”

The study used the 1986-2008 data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). This program has collected information on cancer cases in various areas of the US since 1973. The study involved 8,829 children, from birth to age four, diagnosed with cancer.

Professor Johnson noted that one concern countries face as they are deciding whether or not to fortify foods to reduce neural tube defects in newborns is the possibility that fortification may cause unintended harm, such as causing new cancers or pre-cancerous lesions.