The association between sex and most childhood cancers is not mediated by birthweight

Cancer Epidemiol. 2018 Dec;57:7-12. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2018.09.002. Epub 2018 Sep 21.


Background: Male sex is associated with an increased risk of childhood cancer as is high birthweight. Given that sex determination precedes birthweight we conducted a mediation analysis to estimate the direct effect of sex in association with childhood cancer tumor type with birthweight as the mediator.

Methods: Cases (n = 12,632) and controls (n = 64,439) (ages 0-14 years) were identified from population-based cancer and birth registries in Minnesota, New York, and Washington states (1970-2014). An inverse odds weighting (IOW) mediation analysis was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) as the measure of association between sex and cancer.

Results: A significant indirect effect was observed for sex and lymphoid leukemia, mediated by birthweight (indirectOR: 1.03; 95% CI: 1.02-1.04). We observed significant direct effects for male sex and lymphoid leukemia (directOR: 1.16; 95% CI: 1.08-1.25), Hodgkin lymphoma (directOR: 1.48; 95% CI: 1.22-1.81), Burkitt lymphoma (directOR: 5.02; 95% CI: 3.40-7.42), other non-Hodgkin lymphoma (directOR: 1.42; 95% CI: 1.18-1.70), intracranial embryonal tumors (directOR: 1.49; 95% CI: 1.26-1.76), hepatoblastoma (directOR: 1.90; 95% CI: 1.40-2.59), and rhabdomyosarcoma (directOR: 1.47; 95% CI: 1.19-1.81). There were also inverse associations for extracranial GCTs (directOR: 0.41; 95% CI: 0.26-0.63) and thyroid carcinoma (directOR: 0.35; 95% CI: 0.25-0.50).

Conclusion: Significant direct effects for sex and numerous childhood cancer types suggests sex-specific factors such as differences in gene expression from the autosomes or the X chromosome, rather than birthweight, may underlie sex differences in tumor risk.

Keywords: Birthweight; Childhood cancer; Mediation analysis; Sex-disparity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Birth Weight*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics*