Babies whose mothers were obese during pregnancy may have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer later in life, according to new research led by public health experts at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
The research — which was conducted in conjunction with the Public Health Institute’s Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) program — is published online today in Gut.
Colon cancer, also known as colon cancer or colon cancer, is a leading cause of cancer-related morbidity and mortality worldwide. Obesity is already an established risk factor, and several studies suggest that the fetal or developmental origins of obesity may influence cancer development in adulthood.
Maternal obesity and weight gain during pregnancy can be linked to colorectal cancer in the offspring in two different ways. First, these maternal features increase the risk of obesity in adult offspring, and obesity is a known risk factor for colorectal cancer. Second, they can affect the developing gastrointestinal tract in the womb, making the offspring more susceptible to colorectal cancer later in life.”
Caitlin C. Murphy, PhD, MPH, study co-author and associate professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston
The team of researchers analyzed data the CHDS collected from women who received antenatal care in Oakland, California, between 1959 and 1966. Over 60 years, researchers tracked the health of more than 18,000 of the offspring — about two-thirds of whom were white and 52% were born to families whose total incomes fell below the national median — to determine which colon cancers had developed cancer in adulthood to adulthood. 2019.
The research team found that adult children whose mothers were obese during pregnancy had more than double the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to the adult offspring of healthy-weight or underweight mothers.
According to the study, the timing of maternal weight gain was also associated with risk, regardless of a mother’s obesity. For mothers whose overall weight gain during pregnancy was less than 20 pounds, more weight gain early in pregnancy increased the risk of colorectal cancer in adult children.
Another determinant was birth weight. Infants who weighed more than 4,000 grams at birth were more likely to develop colon cancer as adults, researchers found.
The group’s findings come at a critical time, Murphy said. Given the increasing prevalence of maternal obesity and weight gain during pregnancy, the global burden of colorectal cancer is expected to increase by 60% by 2030 to more than 2.2 million new diagnoses and 1.1 million deaths.
“Colorectal cancer rates have been rising rapidly in younger adults, but we know very little about what might explain this increase,” Murphy said. “These findings suggest that exposure in utero — or in utero events — are important risk factors for colorectal cancer and may contribute to increasing disease rates.”
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Murphy, CC, et al. (2021) Maternal obesity, pregnancy and birth weight gain and colorectal cancer risk. gut. doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325001.