Being born to an overweight mother can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer in the child’s life, according to new research from UT Health.
“Typically we think of this as a cancer that only occurs in older adults but over maybe the last 10 years or so we’ve seen the rates steadily and somewhat alarmingly increase,” said Caitlin Murphy, associate professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health.
To determine why colorectal cancer patients are being diagnosed more frequently and at a young age, Murphy studied maternal obesity of pregnant women in the 1950s and what the current health is of the people born to those mothers.
What she found is there’s a risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is expected to kill 53,000 Americans by the end of the year.
“It’s people who are born in about generation X that seem to have the highest rate of colorectal cancer and when we see those generational effects, it tells us that factors in early life so think of things like childhood, infancy, even things that might happen in the womb are really important risk factors for developing the disease. So, we wanted to take a look and see what kind of early life factors might be associated with colorectal cancer and we started with maternal obesity,” Murphy explained.
Right away, she was able to make the connection between a mother’s weight at the beginning of pregnancy and how often the unborn baby would grow up to develop colon cancer.
“The rates are increasing and increasing with the newer generation and so we see the same thing happening with millennials, and will probably see the same thing happening in the future generations like gen Z having even higher rates of this disease because of that cohort affect,” Murphy explained.
The guidelines to get screened for colon cancer recently dropped from 50 to 45-years-old. Murphy said the illness is successfully treated if caught early, and this research tells us that people need to be screened as early as recommended.