The study compared the number of cases of acute myeloid leukemia within risk groups of over 8,000 women (mothers who drank) and control groups totalling over 10,000 women (mothers who did not drink). In a subgroup of nine studies, 731 cases of acute myeloid leukemia were identified.
Drinking during pregnancy boosted the risk only for acute myeloid leukemia, the researchers found. No greater impact was found during any stage of pregnancy, but the risk increased with the amount of alcohol consumed.
"I think what this study does is it pulls together a lot of data from several studies ... there is enough evidence here that there is a clear connection between alcohol consumption and AML," said Zweidler-McKay.
He believes that the fetus is most vulnerable during the early stages of development, but no period would be immune to risk.
Changes happen at the cellular level that could lead to cancer down the line, Zweidler-McKay explained. "A mistake is made when copies of cells are made early in fetal development," he said. "This mutation is caused by some environmental toxin, most likely alcohol or cigarettes."
Even moderate alcohol consumption is known to cause a variety of cancers in adults, added Dr. Stephen Ross, clinical director at the New York University Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction at the NYU Medical Center, New York City.
Ross cautioned that the retrospective study, which was supported by a grant from the World Cancer Research Fund International, does not show causality.
"It shows a connection, and they're careful to say that," he said referring to the study authors.
Because of a heightened risk for birth defects, Ross agreed that pregnant w
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