A new study has found that kids with cancer have a higher prevalence of body abnormalities, such as asymmetric lower limbs and curvature of the spine, suggesting that the genetic defect responsible for the abnormality might play a role in the development of the disease.
Johannes H. M. Merks, M.D., Ph.D., of Emma Children's Hospital, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues carried out a study to assess the prevalence of morphological (body structure) abnormalities in a large group of childhood cancer patients.
Researchers enrolled 1,073 patients who underwent a physical examination for morphological abnormalities.
The patient group consisted of 898 long-term survivors of childhood cancer and 175 newly diagnosed paediatric patients with cancer. The control group consisted of 1,007 schoolchildren examined in an identical way. The average ages of patients and controls were 21.2 and 10.4 years, respectively.
It was found that both major abnormalities and minor anomalies were significantly more prevalent in the paediatric cancer group.
One or more major abnormalities were present in 26.8 percent of individual patients compared to 15.5 percent in controls, two or more abnormalities in 5.1 percent of patients compared to 1.6 percent in controls, and three or more abnormalities were found in 0.9 percent compared to none in controls.
One or more minor anomalies were found in 65.1 percent of individual patients compared to 56.2 percent in controls, two or more minor anomalies in 32.8 percent of patients compared to 22.1 percent in controls, and three or more minor anomalies were found in 15.2 percent of patients compared to 8.3 percent in controls.
In 42 patients, an established clinical genetic syndrome was diagnosed. The findings showed 14 age-independent morphological abnormalities that were independently and significantly associated with childhood cancer.
For two of these, (eyelid abnormalities and asymmetric lower limbs), the researchers found statistically significant patterns of co-occurring morphological abnormalities suggestive of new tumour predisposition syndromes.
"We conclude that the high incidence of single and combined morphological abnormalities in paediatric patients with cancer indicates that constitutional genetic defects play a more important role in paediatric oncogenesis than is currently estimated," the researchers said.
"Furthermore, the detection of patterns of morphological abnormalities allows identification of new tumour predisposition syndromes," they added.
The study is published in the January 2 issue of JAMA.