Prenatal Vitamins May Protect Against Childhood Cancer

by Karen Barrow

For moms-to-be, taking prenatal multivitamins enriched with folic acid may reduce the risk of three common forms of childhood cancer.

Folic acid and other prenatal vitamins are typically taken to reduce the risk of birth defects. Now a new study reveals that these pills seem to also reduce the baby's risk of developing the most common types of childhood cancer: leukemia, brain tumors and neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system.

"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 from the SickKids Research Institute in Toronto, Canada.

The American Cancer Society predicts that more than 10,000 American children under age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2007. About one-fifth of children with cancer do not live more than five years after diagnosis, and even in those who are successfully treated, months of chemotherapy and radiation have long-term risks. Therefore, finding new ways to prevent childhood cancer is especially important.

Researchers reviewed seven previous studies that looked at the impact of taking a multivitamin with folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, before and during pregnancy.. They discovered that these pills are associated with a significantly lower risk of developing childhood cancer. The risk of developing neuroblastoma dropped by 47 percent, leukemia by 39 percent and brain tumors by 27 percent. The results of the study were published in the journal.

For many years, doctors have touted the importance of taking folic acid for women looking to get pregnant. This B vitamin helps to prevent serious birth defects, such as spina bifida. Researchers are not sure if it is folic acid or another vitamin in prenatal supplements that also protects against childhood cancers. Regardless, this study provides one more reason that women planning on getting pregnant should see a doctor and ask about taking prescription or over-the-counter prenatal vitamins.

"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," said Koren.

Christine Haran has been a health journalist for more than seven years, and her work has appeared in Woman's Day, MAMM Magazine, Bride's Magazine, Publishers Weekly and other publications. In 2003, she received an Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award from the Society for Women's Health Research. Haran has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in english from Skidmore College.

Copyright © Christine Haran. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.