Birth-weight as a risk factor for cancer in adulthood: The stem cell perspective

C. Capittini, P. Bergamaschi, A. De Silvestri, A. Marchesi, V. Genovese, B. Romano, C. Tinelli, L. Salvaneschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The 'stem cell burden' hypothesis represents a plausible explanation for the association between birth-weight and the risk of breast cancer in adulthood. The size of the overall stem cell pool would be expected to affect organ size and consequently birth-weight, making birth-weight a proxy for the overall number of fetal stem cells. As stem cells are self-renewing, the greater their number is at birth, the higher will be the chance that one of them will undergo carcinogenesis over the years. To investigate the correlation between birth-weight and stem cell burden, we examined the cord blood hematopoietic CD34+ stem cell population as an indicator of the overall fetal stem cell number. We measured both the CD34+ level (by flow cytometry) and the CD34+ proliferative potential (by the GM-CFU culture), in a sample of 1037 healthy newborn cord blood donors. We found that heavier babies had a significantly greater CD34+ stem cell concentration (p <0.001) and a higher GM-CFU number than lighter babies (p <0.001). Thus, a high birth-weight was positively associated with a high concentration of CD34+ stem cells and also with a qualitatively higher "stemness" of this pool. Therefore, our data support the theory that birth-weight reflects the number of fetal stem cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-93
Number of pages3
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Birth weight
  • Cancer risk
  • Proliferative potential
  • Stem cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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