Children born with genetic birth defects are at a higher risk of developing deadly diseases like cancer, a study has revealed. The study has been published in July in PLOS ONE.
According to the scientists, children born with non-chromosomal birth defects have a two-fold higher risk of childhood cancer compared to children born without birth defects. They can develop the deadly disease at a tender age 15.
But much to the relief is that the cancer risk varies by the specific type of birth defect, and is not significantly increased in many of the more common birth defects.
Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Every year, an estimated 7.9 million infants (6% of worldwide births) are born with serious birth defects. Although some congenital defects can be controlled and treated, an estimated 3.2 million of these children are disabled for life.
Where do these defects come from?
Although some birth defects are inherited, others are a product of harmful environmental factors. However, in approximately half of all birth defect cases, the causes are unknown.
Birth defects are an increasing health concern worldwide, and in 2010 the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified birth defect prevention and care as a global priority.
Genetic causes of birth defects can be roughly distributed into four general categories: Chromosomal Abnormalities, Single-Gene Defects, Multifactorial Influences and Prenatal environment
A person’s genetic makeup is determined at conception. During the nuclear events of fertilization the genetic causes of many birth defects are determined. Many zygotes that carry such abnormalities do not develop into embryos, but among those that are carried to term, trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), and trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) are the most frequent birth defects. Embryos with these three conditions will develop severe disabilities regardless of the environmental factors associated with the pregnancy.
As opposed to chromosomal abnormalities, single-gene defects are usually inherited.
A combination of genetic mutations and teratogens leads to the development of multifactorial birth defects in certain cases. Although the exact causes of most multifactorial disorders are poorly understood, doctors can often identify common trends among similar conditions.
It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of prenatal environment to a developing fetus. Indeed, a pregnant mother’s health, diet, and level of exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants all have a direct effect on fetal development. Certain foods besides drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes intake by expecting mothers lead to abnormalities in children.
There are more than 7,000 genetic or partially genetic birth defects. Five common types are mentioned below:
1. Heart defects: More than a million births worldwide yearly.
2. Neural tube defects (including spina bifida): Nearly 324,000 births worldwide yearly.
3. Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia): More than 307,000 births worldwide yearly.
4. Down syndrome: More than 217,000 births worldwide yearly.
5. G6PD deficiency (enzyme deficiency that causes anemia): More than 177,000 births worldwide yearly.