A child’s chance of getting cancer starts before they’re conceived

A woman’s habits before, as well as during, pregnancy can play a role in the chance of her child developing cancer, according to new research

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Although cancer risk is usually associated with people’s genes and their behaviour as adults, a woman’s lifestyle before getting pregnant can have a significant impact on her baby, says a new study.

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“Someone’s risk of developing cancer starts from before the time of conception. The risk factors are already operating in the mother’s eggs before conception,” said Professor Ricardo Uauy, the study leader, reports The Observer.

“Yes, cancer is a genetic disease, but your chances of getting cancer are affected by the environment in which you live. So it’s not just about if you smoked from the age of 12. But did your mother smoke? What was the water like that she drank? Is she exposed to toxins such as dioxins, which are found in the environment, and did she pass them on to her baby through her breast milk?”

Professor Ricardo recommended that women should stop smoking before trying to conceive, because smoking increases the chances of a baby having a low birth weight.

Children who are born lighter than average often then gain weight quickly, in the form of fat rather than muscle, especially around the middle, which can increase the cancer risk.

Professor Ricardo also said mums-to-be should steer clear of alcohol, take an iron supplement if required, ensure they have at least 400mg of folate every day, and maintain a healthy BMI of 18.5 to 25.

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Pregnancy weight is also important. “Mums-to-be only need to consume an extra 150 calories a day during the nine months of pregnancy, and should not ‘eat for two’,” argued Professor Ricardo.

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