A new study suggests that folic acid fortification of foods may have helped reduce the incidence of the most common type of kidney cancer (Wilms’ tumor) and a type of brain tumor (primitive neuroectodermal tumor) in children.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated fortification of foods with folic acid in response to earlier studies that showed that prenatal consumption of folic acid reduces neural tube defects in babies.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined the incidence of childhood cancer before and after folic acid fortification was mandated. Researchers used data from 1986 to 2008 involving 8,829 children from birth to age 4 from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, which has collected information on cancer cases from around the country since 1973.

Researchers found that Wilms’ tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1997 and decreased thereafter, coinciding with folic acid fortification. And, primitive neuroectodermal tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter, which does not exactly coincide with folic acid fortification, but does coincide with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, according to researchers.

However, authors said that more research is needed to confirm these results and to rule out any other explanations.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

— Anne Aurand, The Bulletin