Birth size and cancer prognosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There is an established link between birth parameters and risk of adult-onset cancers. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease concept provides potential underlying mechanisms for such associations, including intrauterine exposure to endogenous hormones (androgens and estrogens), insulin-like growth factors, etc. However, there is conflicting evidence on the association between birth parameters and the cancer mortality risk. Therefore, we aimed to review and analyse the available data on the association linking birth weight and birth length with cancer mortality. Eleven studies were identified, published until April 2019. A significant association between birth weight and the prognosis of cancer (overall) was found (relative risk, RR 1.06, 95% confidence interval, CI: 1.01, 1.11), with low heterogeneity (I2 = 27.7%). In addition, higher birth weight was associated with poorer prognosis of prostate cancer (RR 1.21, 95% CI: 1.02, 1.44). However, the association of birth weight with breast cancer mortality risk in women was not significant (RR 1.16, 95% CI: 0.93, 1.44), which might be due to high statistical heterogeneity (I2 = 67.9%). Birth length was not associated with cancer mortality risk (RR 1.0, 95% CI: 0.90–1.11). It might be inferred that birth parameters are not associated with cancer mortality as strongly as with the risk of developing cancer. Also, the association between birth parameters and cancer mortality risk is not uniform and varies according to its subtypes, and study characteristics/design. This highlights the need for further prospective studies.


External organisations
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Skåne University Hospital
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-316
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
Issue number4
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Aug
Publication categoryResearch