Cannabis use in pregnancy linked to cancer in child, study finds

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A recent survey conducted by researchers, including lead author Kyle Walsh from Duke University School of Medicine, has uncovered strong links between substance use during pregnancy and certain types of childhood cancers, particularly highlighting the risks of cannabis use.

This study comes at a crucial time when cannabis use is on the rise, often utilized as a remedy for severe morning sickness.

While alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy have declined, Walsh notes an increase in gestational cannabis use over the past decade.

This is concerning because the psychoactive components of cannabis can cross the placental barrier and potentially disrupt normal brain development in the fetus.

The research team focused on parents of children diagnosed with cancer before turning 18. They collected data from 3,145 families, with 92% of respondents being the child’s biological mother.

The survey asked about the use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs during pregnancy.

It found that 14% of families reported using tobacco, 4% used illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine, and 2% consumed more than a moderate amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

Interestingly, although cannabis use was not separately analyzed, it was included under the category of illicit drugs, with marijuana being the most commonly used illicit substance during pregnancy.

The study found that prenatal illicit drug use was linked to a higher occurrence of central nervous system tumors, including medulloblastomas and supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs), as well as a type of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma.

Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy was strongly associated with an increased prevalence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Meanwhile, maternal tobacco smoking was linked to lower birth weights but not to a higher risk of specific cancers.

Walsh emphasizes the importance of this research for healthcare discussions.

He hopes that these findings encourage more conversations between healthcare providers and patients about the potential effects of substance use during pregnancy, especially cannabis. This information is vital for public health messaging.

The study also highlights the need for a balanced approach when considering the risks of substance use during pregnancy.

This is particularly important for patients who suffer from severe morning sickness and might consider using cannabis for relief, as opposed to recreational use.

The research underscores the need for more in-depth studies into the effects of cannabis and other substances on fetal development and the subsequent risk of childhood cancers.

This study contributes significantly to our understanding of the potential impacts of prenatal substance use and opens the door for further investigation and public health interventions.

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The research findings can be found in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

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