Longer Formula Feeding and Later Introduction of Solids May Increase Risk of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in Children

A research team in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin has found that infant feeding patterns may increase the risk of a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

In a study currently awaiting peer review, researchers found that the risk for developing ALL increased by 16 percent for every month of formula feeding. In addition, for each month the introduction of solid foods was delayed, the risk increased by 14 percent. The researchers found no measurable association between breastfeeding and risk of ALL diagnosis.

The study, led by nutritional sciences graduate student Jeremy Schraw working closely with nutritional sciences faculty member Dr. Michele Forman, in collaboration with colleagues from Baylor College of Medicine, retrospectively examined infant feeding patterns in a group of 142 children who are being treated for ALL and a control group of 284 children

Compared with controls, children diagnosed with ALL started solid foods significantly later, more of their mothers smoked during pregnancy and they had a longer duration of formula feeding. The data for the study did not include the ages of infants consuming formula, only duration of formula feeding.

Researchers found that the risk for developing ALL increased by 16 percent for every month of formula feeding. In addition, for each month the introduction of solid foods was delayed, the risk increased by 14 percent.

"One explanation for this co-risk may be that it's the same effect being picked up twice," said Schraw. "Children being given solid foods later may be receiving formula longer.

Although ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer, it is a relatively rare disease in the general population.

Jeremy Schraw will be presenting his findings at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.