Fetuses of smokers bathed in carcinogen
NEW YORK, Apr 04 (Reuters Health) -- If you needed another reason to quit smoking, here it is: A carcinogen found in tobacco smoke can be detected in the fluid that surrounds the fetus in pregnant smokers.
Smoking in pregnancy is already known to be harmful to the developing fetus. It causes a reduction in birth weight, most likely due to the constriction of blood vessels, which reduces the oxygen supply to the fetus.
The new findings suggest -- but do not prove -- that the offspring of smokers may be at higher risk of cancer later in life, according to Dr. Aubrey Milunsky, a professor and director of The Center for Human Genetics at Boston University Medical Center and colleagues. Their findings are published in the April issue of the journal Prenatal Diagnosis.
``This study should remind women that added to the miserable list of potential (smoking-related) problems like greater likelihood of death around the time of birth, miscarriage, low birth weight, and failure of proper growth,'' said Milunsky,'' is an ominous risk of later adult sequelae (health problems).''
In the study, Milunsky and colleagues measured the amount of NNAL, a tobacco-specific carcinogen, in the amniotic fluid of 51 pregnant women. Amniotic fluid surrounds and cushions the fetus, as well as fills the fetal lungs and digestive system.
The researchers found NNAL in the amniotic fluid of 52% of smokers and about 7% of nonsmokers. Animal studies have suggested that NNAL is a ``potent'' carcinogen, according to the report.
While previous studies have found NNAL in the urine of newborns whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, the study is the first to show that NNAL is in the amniotic fluid.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Milunsky noted that work is underway to determine if people whose mother smoked during pregnancy are at greater risk of cancer.