Increased risk of cancer in children of mothers with epilepsy


Women with epilepsy are recommended high doses of folic acid before and during pregnancy owing to risk of congenital anomalies associated with antiseizure medications. Whether prenatal exposure to high-dose folic acid is associated with increases in the risk of childhood cancer is unknown.

The objective of a new study was assess whether high-dose folic acid supplementation in mothers with epilepsy is associated with childhood cancer.

It was a observational cohort study conducted with nationwide registers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden from 1997 to 2017. Analyses were performed during January 10, 2022, to January 31, 2022. Mother-child pairs were identified in medical birth registers and linked with information from patient, prescription, and cancer registers, as well as with sociodemographic information from statistical agencies, and were categorized by maternal diagnosis of epilepsy. The study population consisted of 3 379 171 children after exclusion of 126 711 children because of stillbirth or missing or erroneous values on important covariates.

The median age at the end of follow-up in the study population of 3 379 171 children was 7.3 years (IQR, 3.5-10.9 years). Among the 27 784 children (51.4% male) born to mothers with epilepsy, 5934 (21.4%) were exposed to high-dose folic acid (mean dose, 4.3 mg), with 18 exposed cancer cases compared with 29 unexposed, producing an adjusted hazard ratio of 2.7 (95% CI, 1.2-6.3), absolute risk if exposed of 1.4% (95% CI, 0.5%-3.6%), and absolute risk if unexposed of 0.6% (95% CI, 0.3%-1.1%). In children of mothers without epilepsy, 46 646 (1.4%) were exposed to high-dose folic acid (mean dose, 2.9 mg), with 69 exposed and 4927 unexposed cancer cases and an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.1 (95% CI, 0.9-1.4; absolute risk, 0.4% [95% CI, 0.3%-0.5%]).

In conclusion prenatal exposure to high-dose folic acid was associated with increased risk of cancer in children of mothers with epilepsy.

Source: JAMA Neurol. 2022;79(11):1-10. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.2977