Adding folic acid to foods may reduce the incidence of a common type of kidney cancer and brain tumors in children, new research shows.
The study, by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Minnesota, found folic acid – long known to prevent birth defects – also reduces the incidence of the kidney cancer known as “Wilms' tumor” and brain cancer identified as PNET (short for primitive neuroectodermal tumors).
Since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated fortification of foods with folic acid based on studies showing that prenatal consumption of it significantly reduces the incidence of neural tube defects in babies.
"Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may also lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States," said lead researcher Kimberly J. Johnson.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, tracked 22 years of health records -- between 1986-2008 -- from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), which has collected U.S. cancer data since 1973.
The study involved 8,829 children, from birth to age four, diagnosed with cancer. Researchers examined the rates of childhood cancer before and after the 1998 FDA mandate for folic acid fortification of foods.
"We found that Wilms' tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1997 and decreased thereafter, which is an interesting finding since the downward change in the trend coincides exactly with folic acid fortification," Johnson said.
"PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter. This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily."