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May 6th, 2010
01:02 PM ET

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase childhood leukemia

By Kenneth J. Hughes
CNN Medical Intern

Drinking mothers increase their unborn babies' risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) says a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention. Adding to the list of reasons not to drink while pregnant, the increased risk of AML in children between the ages of 0 and 4 was shown to increase in mothers that self-reported consuming one drink per week.

The study also took into account the kind of alcohol consumed. The risk remained the same regardless of the kind of alcohol. “The recommendation not to drink alcohol during pregnancy concerns all types of alcoholic beverages,” advises Dr. Paule Latino-Martel, the lead researcher for the study.

The study found women who drank alcohol during the second and third trimester showed an increased risk of AML developing in their babies. The reason why in-utero exposure to alcohol may increase the risk of AML in younger children is still unknown and requires further investigation, the study noted.

AML, typically rare in children, is a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood and bone marrow affecting the development of vital life-giving red and white blood cells and platelets. AML patients typically experience anemia, easy bleeding, higher risk of infection and the danger of leukemia cells spreading to other organ systems in the body.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website states that treatment of AML in children is less likely to bring about remission when under the age of one. Treatment for leukemia in children can also have long-term or late effects involving growth and development.

The American Cancer Society’s website details various potential causes for childhood AML and that no current definitive cause for AML exists.

Mothers considering a drink during pregnancy should not only consider the risk of cancer for their baby, but fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) as well. According to The Mayo Clinic, as many as 40,000 babies are born with alcohol related damage each year in the United States.

The March of Dimes provides a fact sheet for anyone looking for information on the risks drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

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