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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 10/06/2017

Parental Smoking & Childhood Cancer

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer worldwide, causing almost 6 million deaths each year. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, all 6 million of those deaths could be prevented if people did not smoke. Smoking’s toxicity is due to the cancer-causing carcinogens found in smoking tobacco.

All forms of tobacco cause cancer regardless of whether it is chewed, smoked in a pipe, cigar, “light” cigarette, roll-up or shisha, sucked, or inhaled as smokeless tobacco or betel quid. While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they are not regulated and their long-term impact on health is not yet known. Passive smoking, or being exposed to someone else’s tobacco smoke, also increases risk of cancer - especially for children.

Most people know that smoking causes lung cancer, but it can also cause many other types including breast, colorectal, blood, bladder, liver, mouth, pancreatic and stomach cancer. In recent years, studies have shown a relationship between smoking and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). ALL is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Immature leukemia cells accumulate in the bone marrow, destroying and replacing cells that produce normal blood cells. As the cells are carried into the bloodstream, they can reach the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, brain, and testes, where they can continue to grow and divide causing anemia, liver and kidney failure, and other organ damage. Although ALL occurs in both children and adults, its incidence peaks between 2 and 5 years of age. Approximately 3,100 children and teens are diagnosed with ALL each year.

According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL cure rates are high, but the long-term effects include an elevated risk for secondary cancers, which may be serious and life threatening. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, lack of appetite, weight loss and night sweats. Treatment for ALL may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiotherapy and bone marrow transplant.

Tobacco smoke exposure increases the DNA changes (for more information on smoking and DNA damage please click here). DNA changes are associated with the development and progression of many cancers, including ALL. Experts agree that smoking during and after pregnancy is the most critical exposure time linked to DNA changes that lead to ALL, though there is also a strong association found for children whose parents smoked during infancy. In fact, DNA changes have even been noted in the offspring of parents who quit smoking before conception. In summary, the more the parents smoke, the more DNA changes within the child’s ALL cells at diagnosis.

Researchers state that for every 5 cigarettes smoked daily during pregnancy, there is a 22 percent increase in the number of DNA mutations or changes, and for every 5 cigarettes smoked daily during breastfeeding, there is a 74 percent increase in the number of mutations or changes. The risk is not exclusive to smoking mothers; researchers found a 7 to 8 percent increase in the number of mutations or changes when the mother or father smoked about 5 cigarettes a day before conception.

Not smoking or quitting smoking is the best way to reduce your own cancer risk and the risk to those around you.

At Ackerman Cancer Center, we encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices for you and your loved ones by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy and balanced diet and being physically active.

For further resources on smoking cessation, read our blog posts:

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