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People born with birth defects have a higher lifetime risk of cancer, researchers report.

It is well known that serious birth defects are linked to an increased risk of cancer in childhood. Now, new research suggests that the risk may persist into adulthood to a lesser extent.

The researchers used birth and health data from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark on 62,295 cancer patients up to the age of 46 and compared them to 724,542 cancer-free controls. Overall, people with a serious genetic or non-genetic birth defect had a 74 percent increased risk of cancer compared to people without one. People with a non-genetic defect had a 54 percent increased risk.

The study in BMJ found that the risks varied depending on the type of defect. Those born with neural tube defects had five times the risk of developing cancer than those born without, and people with genetic defects like Down syndrome had more than six times the risk. On the other hand, those born with a cleft palate were not at risk at all.

Lead author, Dagrun Slettebo Daltveit of the University of Bergen in Norway, said that cancer is definitely rare in people under 50 and that the absolute increase in risk is small. "This adds information to the risk picture," she said, "just like a family history of an illness. That doesn't mean a person with a birth defect is doomed to cancer."


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