Women who take sex hormones before and during pregnancy are three
times more likely to have children who develop cancer, according
to researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Epidemiologist Arthur Michalek, phd, associate director of the
Department of Education, and colleagues report that neuroblastoma,
the most common type of childhood cancer, is linked to a mother's
use of sex hormones to increase fertility, control vaginal bleeding,
or prevent miscarriages.
Neuroblastoma tumors are generally found in adrenal glands. Although
cancer among young children is rare, neuroblastoma accounts for
one-quarter of all childhood cancers and is diagnosed in about
500 children annually.
Previously, the low incidence rate of neuroblastomas prevented
the detailed investigation of risk factors associated with this
In the Roswell Park study, the first and largest of its kind,
Dr. Michalek and associates compared the results of interviews
with 183 women whose children were diagnosed with neuroblastoma
and 372 women with healthy offspring. Those mothers who used sex
hormones were more likely to have children who were later diagnosed
with the disease.
Male children appeared to be at higher risk for the disease than
females, with an average age at diagnosis of 18 months.
Women who took sex hormones to increase fertility proved to be
at greatest risk. "The sizable numbers of case and control
mothers interviewed [increased] the statistical power of this
study and enabled the detection of subtle risk differences,"
Although not addressed in the study, the researchers suggest that
other potential risk factors, such as the routine use of oral
contraceptives, be examined in mothers of children diagnosed with
A Surprising Development
In a surprising development, vitamins used during pregnancy seemed
to offer the unborn child some protection against cancer. The
data, however, were based on a mother's self-reported use of vitamins,
and this aspect of the investigation requires more controlled
study, Michalek noted.