Birth weight and risk of cancer

Cancer. 2007 Jul 15;110(2):412-9. doi: 10.1002/cncr.22773.


Background: It is well established that prenatal biologic processes are important for the development of some childhood cancers, whereas less is known regarding their influence on adult cancer risk. High birth weight has been associated with risk of breast cancer, whereas studies of other specific cancers and all cancers together have been less conclusive.

Methods: The authors established a cohort of more than 200,000 men and women who were born between 1936 and 1975. Birth weights were obtained from school health records and information concerning cancer from the Danish Cancer Registry. Follow-up was performed between April 1, 1968 and December 31, 2003. During 6,975,553 person-years of follow-up, a total of 12,540 primary invasive cancers were diagnosed.

Results: Analyses of site-specific cancers revealed that the majority of cancers had a positive linear association with birth weight. Departures from a positive linear association were found to be statistically significant for cancers of the pancreas and bladder, which demonstrated a V-shaped association, and testicular cancer, which demonstrated an inverse association with birth weight. Excluding these 3 exceptions, the trends for the individual cancer sites were not heterogeneous, and the overall trend was a relative risk of 1.07 (95% confidence interval, 1.03-1.11) per 1000-g increase in birth weight. This trend was the same in men and women and in all age groups.

Conclusions: A 7% increase in cancer risk was observed per 1000-g increase in birth weight. Few cancers demonstrated a nonlinear association with birth weight, and testicular cancer was found to be negatively associated with birth weight. The authors hypothesized that the biologic explanation behind the association between birth weight and cancer at different sites should be sought in a common pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors