Cancer risks in twins: results from the Swedish family-cancer database

Int J Cancer. 2002 Jun 20;99(6):873-8. doi: 10.1002/ijc.10441.


Twin studies on cancer have addressed two general questions, one about the possible carcinogenic effects of twinning and the second about heritable effects of cancer. The first question is answered by comparing the occurrence of cancer in twins to that in singletons; the second is answered in probandwise analysis of monozygotic twins compared to dizygotic twins or siblings. We used the nationwide Swedish Family-Cancer Database on 10.2 million individuals and 62,574 0-66-year-old twins to calculate standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for all main cancer compared to cancer in singletons. In probandwise analysis, the SIR was calculated for the co-twin of an affected twin. The overall risk of cancer in same or opposite sex twins was at the level of the risk for singletons. Testicular cancer was increased among same sex twins and all twins to an SIR of 1.43. Melanoma was decreased in these groups of twins to an SIR of 0.84. Some other cancer sites were increased or decreased in some groups of twins, but none in all twins. The SIR of breast cancer was 1.01 and 1.04 in same and opposite sex twins, respectively. Probandwise analysis showed increased risks for Hodgkin's disease in males and breast cancer and childhood acute lymphoid leukemia among females. The data on this unselected population of twins suggest that twinning per se is not a risk factor of cancer. However, because twins are smaller than singletons at birth, some possible effects could be masked by such differences. In utero hormonal exposures may be related to the risk of testicular cancer. The protective effects in melanoma may be due to socioeconomic factors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sweden / epidemiology