Baby Boomers, Could Your Birth Certificate Showcase Potential Cancer Risks?

Ugh, cancer — it’s a yucky word and for those who have experienced a loss due to this disease, you know how important it is to try and prevent it. As more research surfaces, we continue to learn how we can reduce our risk based on our lifestyle. From antioxidant-rich foods to regular exercise, we can play an active role in our future health.

Of course, none of know what the future will bring — but what if you had even the slightest clue? What if something from your past could showcase your potential cancer risk? As frightening as that sounds, baby boomers may have this level of insight based on their birth certificates.

The Link Between Birth Certificates and Cancer

For those children born following World War II, between the years 1946 and 1964, you are what’s known as the baby boomers. As the population temporarily spiked, it gave way to this unique population. Based on a recent study, baby boomer birth certificates may display potential cancer risks.

While studying American baby boomers, it was found that parental occupation and the socioeconomic status (SES) of the neighbourhood in which the baby was born, may be associated with cancer development later in life. Although SES has been linked to cancer risk in adulthood before, this is the first time that parental occupation has been studied.

More specifically, it appears that high occupational status of parents, as seen on birth certificates, is associated with an increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, as well as melanoma. It was also reported that the location of one’s family home was important.

Here are a couple key findings:

  • When comparing women from high SES neighbourhoods with those from low SES neighbourhoods, those from the low SES group were at a greater risk for invasive cervical cancer. More specifically, women born in the lowest SES neighbourhoods, faced a 44 percent higher risk than women in the highest SES group.
  • With that being said, for those who lived in low SES neighbourhoods, men faced a lower risk of prostate cancer and both sexes had a lower risk of developing melanoma.

These findings were published this past September in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. To reach these conclusions, researchers studied nearly 60,500 female and 65,800 male baby boomers who were born between the years 1945 and 1959.

Adult cancer incidence was linked through Utah Cancer Registry records, as this study focused on two Utah counties. The average follow-up time was around 34 years from age 18. At the time of the last follow-up, 91 percent of participants were still alive. Overall, there was no association found for lung, colon, rectal, or pancreas cancers.

The researchers concluded that early-life SES, based on parents occupation, may be associated with cancer risk in adulthood. Based on this information, they believe that they may be able to identify individuals who have a greater risk of developing cancer, which may be useful in terms of lifestyle choices.

While focusing on melanoma risk, researchers believe that high SES residents are at greater risk based on opportunities to be outside. Whether that means these individuals frequently skied or went on sunny holidays, it’s likely that they experienced higher UV exposure. This makes sense, as those in low SES Utah neighbourhoods would not have the means to travel to sunnier climates.

The senior author stated that this link between SES and prostate, cervical and breast cancer, may reflect differences in cancer screening. Meaning, more affluent people are likely to undergo screening, allowing them to detect cancers, which are now a part of the recorded data.

Other researchers stated that this study may confirm aspects of cancer risk in which we’re already aware of, however, it’s exciting that this study had the ability to focus on two levels of childhood SES and how that influences cancer risk. In that sense, this study is the first of its kind.

Like all cancer-related studies, sometimes, new data creates new questions. Although your childhood may place you at risk for cancer later in life, you can still actively play a role in your future health. You may not have had a choice as to where you grew up, but you can most certainly make health concious choices today.

If you would like more information on cancer prevention, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

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