The Risk Of Paternal Preconception Smoking

The Danger Of Maternal Smoking

There is plenty of data available to support the fact that unborn babies, newborns, and young children are seriously affected by maternal smoking. However, until recently, there has not been much available to expose the risks of paternal smoking to fetuses, newborns, and young children. A few studies have discussed paternal risks, but, except for a small study done in England showing the link between paternal smoking and cancer death among UK children between the years 1953 to 1955, there has been little offered.

New Information On The Impact Of Paternal Smoking On Children

This lack of information has now been addressed through a study released and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers studied the connection between paternal smoking and increased cancer risk in children and was conducted in Shanghai, China.

The findings indicate children under the age of five have an increased risk for several common childhood cancers if their fathers smoked before they were conceived. The risk for childhood cancers, including acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), lymphoma, and brain cancer, were highest for children whose fathers smoked very heavily or for a long period of time prior to conception.

The lead author of the study was Bu-Tian Ji, MD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI and Columbia University in New York. Dr. Ji's co-authors came from Shanghai Cancer Institute, the Shanghai Xin-Hua Hospital, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and NCI. Dr. Ji said, "This is the first epidemiologic study to suggest that duration of smoking and number of cigarettes smoked per day increases the risk of childhood cancer."

"An important feature of the study population was the wide range of smoking behaviors by fathers and the almost complete absence of smoking among mothers," said Dr. Ji. This is a common pattern in China. "Thus, it was possible to assess independently the effects of paternal smoking in the absence of maternal smoking."

Contents Of The Study

The study involved interviewing the parents of 642 children with cancer under the age of 15, and the same number of parents of children without cancer. Several factors and behaviors were investigated relative to exposure to potential cancer risks, including tobacco and alcohol use both before and after conception, family history, home and work history, and events related to birth.

Fathers who had never smoked were 30 percent less likely to have a child with cancer than fathers who did smoke. The increased risk seems to be from fathers smoking before the child's conception rather than after the baby's birth. Since maternal inhalation of second hand smoke (passive smoking) was not considered to be a risk at the time the study began, it was not included in the data.

Risks To Children Higher For Fathers Who Smoke

The risk to children under the age of five for all types of cancer was 3.8 times higher for children of fathers who smoked more than five-pack years (smoking a pack a day for five years) before the child was conceived. These children also had a 4.5 times higher risk for lymphoma, 2.7 times higher risk for brain tumors, and 1.7 times higher risk for all types of cancers.

Although the study did not answer the question of how paternal smoking raises cancer risk in children, it is thought there is genetic damage done to the sperm cells of men who smoke. The sperm cells mutate and then morph into cancer-causing cells in the baby.

"Results from our study may indicate a preventive strategy for men to reduce cancer risk in their offspring," said Dr. Ji.

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