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Keywords:

  • childhood cancer;
  • infant leukaemia;
  • maternal smoking;
  • maternal alcohol;
  • illicit drug use

Summary

Slater ME, Linabery AM, Blair CK, Spector LG, Heerema NA, Robison LL, Ross JA. Maternal prenatal cigarette, alcohol and illicit drug use and risk of infant leukaemia: a report from the Children's Oncology Group. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 2011; 25: 559–565.

Several case–control studies have evaluated associations between maternal smoking, alcohol consumption and illicit drug use during pregnancy and risk of childhood leukaemia. Few studies have specifically focused on infants (<1 year) with leukaemia, a group that is biologically and clinically distinct from older children. We present data from a Children's Oncology Group case–control study of 443 infants diagnosed with acute leukaemia [including acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)] between 1996 and 2006 and 324 population controls. Mothers were queried about their cigarette, alcohol and illicit drug use 1 year before and throughout pregnancy. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals [CI] were calculated using adjusted unconditional logistic regression models. Maternal smoking (>1 cigarette/day) and illicit drug use (any amount) before and/or during pregnancy were not significantly associated with infant leukaemia. Alcohol use (>1 drink/week) during pregnancy was inversely associated with infant leukaemia overall [OR = 0.64; 95% CI 0.43, 0.94], AML [OR = 0.49; 95% CI 0.28, 0.87], and leukaemia with mixed lineage leukaemia gene rearrangements (‘MLL+’) [OR = 0.59; 95% CI 0.36, 0.97]. While our results agree with the fairly consistent evidence that maternal cigarette smoking is not associated with childhood leukaemia, the data regarding alcohol and illicit drug use are not consistent with prior reports and are difficult to interpret. It is possible that unhealthy maternal behaviours during pregnancy, some of which carry potential legal consequences, may not be adequately measured using only self-report. Future case–control studies of childhood leukaemia that pursue these exposures may benefit from incorporation of validated instruments and/or biomarkers when feasible.