Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have found that taking prenatal multivitamins fortified with folic acid can reduce the risk of three common childhood cancers: leukemia, brain tumours and neuroblastoma. This research was published online on February 21, 2007, in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
“Our research indicates that a large proportion of several early childhood cancers can be prevented by taking a prenatal multivitamin before and during pregnancy,” said Dr. Gideon Koren, the study’s principal investigator, director of the Motherisk Program at SickKids, a senior scientist in the SickKids Research Institute and a professor of Paediatrics, Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Medicine and Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto. “This affordable approach could contribute to a significant reduction in the number of childhood cancer cases diagnosed each year, which has huge implications for society at large.”
The study examined the findings of seven American articles that met the inclusion criteria and found that prenatal supplementation of multivitamins containing folic acid is associated with a 47 per cent protective effect for neuroblastoma, 39 per cent for leukemia and 27 per cent protective effect for brain tumours. While other studies have investigated the effect of prenatal vitamins on rates of paediatric tumours, this is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of prenatal multivitamin use before and during early pregnancy and its protective effect for several paediatric cancers.
Leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, accounts for 25 to 35 per cent of new paediatric cases each year. Brain and spinal tumours, the second most common form of cancer, accounts for 17 per cent of new paediatric cancer cases each year, and neuroblastoma, the most prevalent solid tumour that occurs outside of the brain in children under the age of five, affects one in every 6,000 to 7,000 children in North America.
Additional research is required to determine which components of a prenatal multivitamin provide protective effect for paediatric cancers and whether any of the protective effects can be attributed to folic acid. A previous study by Motherisk found that prenatal multivitamins fortified with folic acid can reduce the risk of a wide range of serious congenital defects. Women who are considering pregnancy are generally advised to supplement with folic acid but findings of these studies suggest that supplementation with a multivitamin containing folic acid may be a preferred method.
Other members of the research team included Ingrid Goh, Tom Einarson, and Eneka Bollano, all from SickKids.