Baldness and Cancer in Children Linked to Bad Health Habit

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A recent study published in the journal Life Sciences tells us that the mystery of the cause of rhabdomyosarcomas in children may be linked to a bad health habit that previously has been associated with premature balding—nicotine addiction.

Bad health habits account for many medical conditions such as diabetes, hardening of the arteries and lung cancer. Because it provides us with a sense of control, there is some comfort in believing that we know why a particular disease occurs. However, some cancers develop for no apparent reason. One example is rhabdomyosarcoma—a soft tissue sarcoma that accounts for about 3.5% of all cancers in children.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer made up of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles—the voluntary muscles that we control to move parts of our body. While skeletal muscles typically are thought of as those in our arms and legs, they (and developing rhabdomyosarcomas) are present nearly everywhere in the body. Muscle cancers often develop in the head and neck (near the eye, inside the nasal sinuses or throat, or near the spine in the neck); in the urinary and reproductive organs (bladder, prostate gland, or any of the female organs); and in the arms, legs, chest and abdomen.

Although adults can develop a rhabdomyosarcoma, 85% of all rhabdomyosarcomas occur in infants, children, and teenagers. Rhabdomyosarcomas are associated with specific chromosomal abnormalities. Unfortunately, the exact cause of these DNA mutations has remained elusive as no connection has ever been found between it and exposure to toxic substances such as environmental pollutants, radiation, physical injury or exposure to tobacco smoke.

However, the cause behind rhabdomyosarcoma—in at least some cases of children—may at long last be revealed in a recent study involving a special strain of inbred mice with a genetic predisposition toward developing rhabdomyosarcoma.

In the study, an experimental group of mice were given subcutaneous injections of an LD50 dose of nicotine at 3 mg/kg/day, 5 days per week for 24 months, while a control group received a placebo injection consisting of saline. LD50 stands for the amount of a substance (if given all at once) causes the death of 50% of a group of test animals as a way to measure the short-term poisoning potential (acute toxicity) of a particular substance.

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What the researchers found was that 78.6% of the nicotine-treated mice developed sarcomas in the same types of skeletal tissues that children develop rhabdomyosarcoma, whereas none of the control mice developed neoplasms originating from the same types of tissues.

Furthermore, the nicotine-injected experimental mice also developed transient balding starting as small patches of alopecia that progressed to distinct circumscribed areas of complete baldness or large areas of diffuse hair loss.

Premature balding due to nicotine has been recognized for some time now and has been reported in numerous personal testimonies by people who turned to the smoking cessation method of substituting cigarettes with nicotine gum. Unfortunately however, what many found was that in giving up their addiction to nicotine in their cigarettes, they in turn developed an addiction to the nicotine in their gum and after a number of years on the habit developed serious medical issues including premature hair loss.

The researchers of the study claim that their findings are the first to show that chronic nicotine exposure can induce the development of muscle sarcomas as well as transient hair loss in an experimental animal model. They believe that their findings may help explain the association of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma with parental smoking and of the earlier onset of balding seen in people with a smoking habit, although they do note that the exact mechanism behind either condition is currently unknown.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia via Clinical Tools, Inc., and is copyrighted by Clinical Tools, Inc.

Reference:

“Muscle sarcomas and alopecia in A/J mice chronically treated with nicotine” Life Sciences, 12 April 2012; Valentin Galitovskiy, Alexander I. Chernyavsky, Robert A. Edwards, and Sergei A. Grando

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