Early growth patterns influence breast cancer risk

October 19, 2004 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Early growth patterns influence breast cancer risk

Confirming previous research, the results of a population-based Danish study show that a high birth weight is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer later in life. Also, rapid growth during childhood and adolescence has a similar effect, according to the study appearing in last week's New England Journal of Medicine. This study adds to the growing evidence that breast cancer can originate in early life.

To investigate whether growth early in life influences breast cancer risk later on, researchers analyzed data on more than 117,000 Danish girls born between 1930 and 1975.

The researchers found that high birth weight, high stature, low body mass index during adolescence, and rapid growth around the time of mammary-gland development, were all independent risk factors for breast cancer later in life.

Age at the start of menstruation, age at first childbirth, and the number of children a woman had were not related to breast cancer risk in this study.

The researchers said, "We are beginning to understand that rapid growth of children and the increasing height in many populations over the past decades may not be beneficial for health, in particular for the prospects of developing cancer."

Since growth and height are partly determined by early nutrition, we need to explore how to optimize the diet for children for their lifelong health.

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