Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of childhood cancer, affecting nearly 6 thousand children in the US annually. Recently, a possible relationship has been identified, which may provide valuable insight into why this cancer develops and how to prevent it.
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities regularly contributes cutting-edge research to the fields of life and health sciences. A recent study from the university discovered the potential of
kava extract as a lung cancer combatant. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota's Masonic Cancer Center may have identified a link between children who go on to develop ALL and those who were birthed via a pre-labor cesarean delivery. In fact, the analysis showed a 23% increase in risk of ALL in children born by pre-labor cesarean delivery. Studies in the past have shown no significant correlation between the development of childhood leukemia and cesarean section delivery. However, focusing specifically on c-sections performed before labor suggests a possible association that requires further research.
This research team was led by Masonic Cancer Center members Erin Marcotte, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Logan Spector, Ph.D., professor, of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
While many theories exist as to what may spark the development of ALL after a pre-labor c-section, the main idea presented by UMinn researcher Dr. Logan Spector is that the lack of cortisol, a stress hormone, is the underlying culprit. When children are born via planned cesarean sections rather than emergency cesarean or vaginal delivery, they do not experience a buildup of cortisol while the mother is in labor.
As Dr. Spector notes, “Cortisol exposure is plausible [as a cause of ALL] since similar compounds are used to treat ALL. We also know that some [children] are born with cells that are on
the path to becoming leukemia. Thus, our working hypothesis is that cortisol exposure at birth may eliminate these pre-leukemic cells.” Based on this hypothesis, researchers suspect an increase in ALL may be ultimately due to improperly adapted immune systems at birth.
While further investigations are necessary to settle on this theory, lead investigators note that these findings are comparable to others looking at cesarean delivery rates and later developing childhood outcomes like Type I diabetes and asthma.
This research project was supported through funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Research Institute.
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