Prenatal Alcohol Consumption And Leukemia
Pregnant women who consume alcohol raise their children's risk for developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare form of blood cancer. The scientists behind this finding said that by pooling data from a variety of already-published studies, they were able to establish that alcohol consumption during gestation was linked to an increased risk of 56% for the development of AML in children.
However, Dr. Julie Ross from the University of Minnesota, who has no connection to this study, said that women should keep in mind that this disease is very rare. Only 700 cases are diagnosed in any given year and there are liable to be many other causal factors for the development of the cancer. Ross stated, "The vast majority of women who consume alcohol during pregnancy will not have a child who develops leukemia. However, given other risks associated with alcohol drinking during pregnancy, these results can help to reiterate the message that it is probably best to abstain from alcohol if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant."
While researchers don't know why leukemia develops in children, they believe there may be some environmental factor that interacts with a child's genetic structure. Alcohol consumption would be one such factor according to Dr. Paule Latino-Martel, who is the lead author of the new study which was published online in May 2010. Martel and his research team hail from the Research Center for Human Nutrition in France.
The researchers studied 21 earlier studies related to the drinking habits of pregnant women and to childhood leukemia. They discovered that drinking in pregnancy could be correlated to a 56% increase in the risk for AML. The report of this study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Ross feels that the figure of 56% may be taken out of context. It makes the risk sound huge, but since there are only around 8 cases of AML in every one million children, the 56% increased risk for the condition would only amount to four more cases or 12 in every one million children.
While obstetricians worldwide have long recommended that pregnant women refrain from drinking alcohol during gestation, in some cultures, it is very hard to get women to take the recommendation with the seriousness it deserves. In Russia, 60% of all pregnant women drink, while 59% of Australian women drink during pregnancy. In France, 52% drink alcohol, in Sweden, 30% and in America, 12% drink during pregnancy.
Ross says that if we consider that 12% of all U.S. women drink while pregnant, and the rate for the development of AML goes up 56% in their children, this still means that only 6% of childhood AML cases among children in the U.S. can be attributed to their mothers' drinking habits. This also means that the other 94% of those cases can be attributed to other causes.