A research team at The Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) and the University of Toronto (U of T) has shown that folic acid food fortification has resulted in a 60% reduction in the incidence of neuroblastoma, a deadly childhood cancer.
“Our research indicates that this is the first pediatric cancer that can be prevented through maternal diet,” said Dr Gideon Koren, director of HSC’s Motherisk Program. “The role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida was already known. This study also suggests a link between folic acid and neuroblastoma.”
Neuroblastoma is the second most common pediatric tumour and the most prevalent solid tumour that occurs outside of the brain in children under the age of five, affecting one in every 6,000 to 7,000 children in North America. Because this cancer develops in utero, neuroblastoma is the most commonly diagnosed malignant tumour of infancy. The aggressive nature of this tumour also makes it the most common cause of cancer-related death among children one to four years old.
In this study, the researchers looked at the incidence of neuroblastoma in Ontario, using data from before and after the mandatory folic acid food fortification program. In 1997, Canada began fortifying flour with folic acid to aid in the prevention of neural tube defects. Folic acid supplements are also routinely recommended for women of childbearing age.
“We need to investigate further the role of metabolism in the formation and prevention of neuroblastoma and other cancers that develop in utero. We will also look at whether folic acid has an impact on neuroblastoma after the cancer has already developed,” added Dr. Koren.
University of Toronto, Sept 25, 2003