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Drinking While Pregnant Ups Newborn’s Risk of Rare Cancer

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Pregnant women have been cautioned for years to avoid drinking alcohol. Now there is one more reason. Drinking even one alcoholic beverage a week during pregnancy increases unborn babies’ risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) says a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.

The study found mothers who self-reported consuming one drink per week increased their unborn babies’ risk of AML by 56 percent between the ages of zero and four years.

“Despite the current recommendation that pregnant women should not drink alcohol at all during their pregnancy, alcohol consumption during pregnancy is 12 percent in the United States, 30 percent in Sweden, 52 percent in France, 59 percent in Australia and 60 percent in Russia," said Paule Latino-Martel, Ph.D. and research director at the Research Center for Human Nutrition in France and the study’s lead researcher.

The study found women who drank during the second and third trimesters increased their babies odds of developing AML, however they are still unsure why in-utero exposure to alcohol increases that risk. The assumption is that alcohol produces cellular level changes in the fetus’ body, much like those found in cell mutations caused by other environmental toxins.

What makes this finding even more alarming is that AML is typically rare in children. It is a rapidly progressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow affecting the development of vital life-giving red and while blood cells and platelets. AML patients experience anemia, easy bleeding, higher risk of infection and danger of leukemia cells spreading to other organ systems in the body.

Julie Ross, Ph.D., director of the division of pediatric epidemiology and clinical research at the University of Minnesota, said there are about 700 cases of AML in the United States in children each year.

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, treatment of AML in children is less likely to result in remission when diagnosed under the age of one. Treatment for leukemia may also have long-term growth and development effects.

The study took into account the kind of alcohol consumed, however the risk did not diminish between types. Researchers found the more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk. Zero alcohol consumption during pregnancy is recommended, Dr. Latino-Martel said.

Pregnant women who consume alcohol also risk exposing their unborn babies to fetal alcohol syndrome. The Mayo Clinic reports as many as 40,000 babies are born in the United States with alcohol-related damage each year.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.

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