Pregnant women who smoke risk their child getting cancer

Pregnant women who smoke increase the risk of their child developing some form of cancer according to a study in the March 9 issue of JAMA.

Smoking has a wide range of possible consequences during and after pregnancy, such as infertility, coagulation problems, obstetric complications such as extrauterine pregnancy and placenta previa, and intrauterine growth retardation, according to background information in a recent study. However, according to a preliminary report smoking during pregnancy is also associated with increased chromosomal abnormalities in fetal cells.

Until now little data has been published on a possible genotoxic (effect of damaging DNA, possibly causing genetic mutation) effect on pregnancy in humans.

The study by Rosa Ana de la Chica, M.Sc., of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain, and colleagues, was to find out whether smoking in pregnancy has a genotoxic effect on amniotic cells. Fetal amniocytes (cells of fetal origin in the amniotic fluid) were obtained by routine amniocentesis for prenatal diagnosis from 25 controls and 25 women who smoke (10 or more cigarettes/ for 10 or more years). The women were asked to fill out a smoking questionnaire concerning their smoking habits.

When they compared the genetic data between smokers and nonsmokers (controls) important differences were seen; structural chromosomal abnormalities, chromosomal instability and chromosomal lesions were more evident in the data on smokers; further analysis found a certain chromosomal region was most affected by tobacco, and noted that this region has been implicated in the development of cancers.

The authors explain that tobacco has a genotoxic effect and is responsible for the chromosomal abnormalities in fetal cells; an increase of chromosomal instability is associated with an increase in the risk of cancer, especially childhood malignancies.

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