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Caffeine in Pregnancy May Be Linked to Cancer

Jan 26, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new study has found that caffeine might be dangerous to unborn babies.  Mail Online reported that pregnant women who drink caffeinated drinks might be increasing the likelihood that their babies could develop leukemia.

Leukemia is the most common cancer afflicting children, said Mail Online, which explained that caffeine intake, while a woman is pregnant, could damage a baby’s DNA when in utero.  Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and white blood cells, can affect people of all ages and is the most common type of childhood cancer, said Science Daily.  Leicester University plans on initiating a detailed review of the caffeine consumption of hundreds of pregnant women, comparing blood samples taken from their babies following birth said Mail Online.

Researcher and study lead, Dr. Marcus Cooke, was quoted as saying that there was a “good likelihood” that the analysis would make the caffeine-leukemia link, said Mail Online, which pointed out that earlier studies have linked caffeine with damage to DNA, interrupting the body’s cells’ ability to fight off “cancer triggers such as radiation.”  Also, according to the article, this sort of problem has been seen in the blood of children suffering from leukemia and while experts understand the problem originates in the womb, it is not yet known why.

“Although there’s no evidence at all of a link between caffeine and cancer, we’re putting two and two together and saying:  Caffeine can induce these changes and it has been shown that these changes are elevated in leukemia patients,” said Dr. Cooke, quoted Mail Online.  “I wonder if caffeine can somehow sensitize cells or increase the risk of leukemia?  The idea seems plausible.  It is vital for mothers that we either confirm caffeine as a trigger that can make something happen to a child while in the womb or rule it out,” Cooke added.

The Food Standards Agency recently reduced the amount of caffeine from 300 mg to 200mg per day that it says can be safely consumed in pregnancy; the equivilent of about two mugs of instant coffee, four cups of tea, or five cans of cola, said Mail Online.

Science Daily reported that Cooke views the study as an opportunity to locate how chromosomal changes occur in utero, with the goal of reducing pediatric leukemias.  "We want to find out whether consuming caffeine could lead to the sort of DNA changes in the baby that are linked to risk of leukemia," said Dr Cooke, according to Science Daily.  Science Daily explained that pediatric leukemia could start with changes in the unborn child’s DNA; however, it is widely believed the cancer would only develop with the presence of a second “trigger,” such as caffeine.

Some believe radiation exposure or an uncommon infection response might be to blame, in part, for some leukemias, but no one cause for the disease has ever been confirmed, said Science Daily.  And while there are no confirmed links between caffeine and cancer, some studies have linked DNA alterations to caffeine—which can pass through the placenta—and which have been found in infants and are thought to increase the likelihood of developing the disease.

The team will work with over 1,300 pregnant women, said Science Daily.

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