, Volume 2, Issue 5, pp 315-324

Incidence of childhood cancer in twins

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The incidence of childhood cancer in twins was evaluated by linking a roster of 30,925 twins born in Connecticut (United States) between 1930 and 1969 with the Connecticut Tumor Registry. Cancer, exclusive of nonmelanoma skin cancer, was identified in 19 females and 12 males under 15 years of age. The incidence rate among twins was 7.9 cancers per 100,000 person-years (PY) overall, and 9.7 and 6.1 per 100,000 PYs for females and males, respectively. Four of 13 leukemias occurred in two female twin pairs, representing concordance rates of 18 percent overall and 29 percent for like-sex pairs, which are somewhat higher than values reported previously. The number of cancers expected was computed on the assumption that twins experienced the same sex-, age-, and calendar time-specific cancer rates as recorded for all Connecticut-born children. Because active follow-up of individuals was not conducted, an adjustment to person-years of observation was made to account for childhood mortality, including the high perinatal mortality characteristie of twins. Childhood cancer was 30 percent less frequent than expected (standardized incidence ratio [SIR]=0.7; 95 percent confidence interval [CI]=0.5–0.9), a deficit that is marginally greater than those found in previous studies. Both leukemia (SIR=0.8; CI=0.4–1.4), and all other cancers combined (SIR=0.6; CI=0.3–0.9) occurred less often than expected. The deficit was greater among males (SIR=0.5; CI=0.2–0.8) than among females (SIR=0.9; CI=0.5–1.4) and was especially pronounced among males younger than five years (SIR=0.2; CI=0.0–0.7). The data support the view that twins, particularly male twins, have a lower risk of childhood cancer than single-born children. Any added risk for twins associated with their greater frequency of exposure to prenatal X-rays appears to have been insufficient to offset an ‘effect’ of twinning per se. Possible explanations for this finding include (i) the low birthweight distribution of twins, or (ii) selective early mortality of twin fetuses or neonates who would otherwise have developed a clinical cancer.

Drs Inskip, Boice, Stone, and Fraumeni are with the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA. Dr Harvey was in the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program at the time of this research and is now with Sterling Drug, Malvern, PA, USA. Dr Matanoski is in the Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA. Dr Flannery is with the Connecticut Tumor Registry, Hartford, CT, USA. Address correspondence to Dr Inskip, Radiation Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Executive Plaza North, Room 408, Rockville, MD 20852, USA. This study was supported in part by Contract N01-CPO-1047 with the National Cancer Institute, US Public Health Service.