Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Raises Leukemia Risk in Children


Here is yet one more reason to refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Results of a new study show that pregnant women who drink alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of having a child who has acute myeloid leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), also known as acute myelocytic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia, is a rare and potentially fatal form of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow and typically moves quickly into the blood. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), acute myeloid leukemia can also spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, central nervous system, and testicles.

Approximately 12,810 new cases of acute myeloid leukemia were diagnosed in 2009, and most were in adults, according to the ACS. This form of leukemia is uncommon before age 40, and the average age of a patient with the disease is about 65 to 67 years old. The National Marrow Donor Program notes that about 10 percent of cases of acute myeloid leukemia occur in children.


The new study was conducted by scientists at the Research Center for Human Nutrition in France, where a team analyzed 21 case control studies. Use of alcohol during pregnancy was associated with a 56 percent increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia in children, and the risk was higher in children aged 0 to 4 years at diagnosis. The researchers did not see a significant association between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common cancer in children, occurring in about one of every 29,000 children in the United States each year.

Because acute myeloid leukemia can progress rapidly, immediate treatment is critical. Treatment typically includes chemotherapy, although bone marrow or cord blood transplants are also used. In children, intensive chemotherapy can bring about complete remission in 90 percent of cases.

Alcohol use during pregnancy has been associated with a variety of health issues, including fetal alcohol syndrome, epilepsy, birth defects, behavior problems, learning disabilities, and nerve damage.

According to Paule Latino-Martel, PhD, research director at the Research Center for Human Nutrition, “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.” Although acute myeloid leukemia is a rare disease among children, the increased risk is just one more reason why women should refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

American Association for Cancer Research news release May 6, 2010-05-06
American Cancer Society
National Marrow Donor Program