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Research Summary

Can Drinking During Pregnancy Raise the Risk of Childhood Leukemia?

Results from the few studies that have examined the association between alcohol use during pregnancy and childhood leukemia are conflicting. Researchers in France aimed to clarify this association through a case-control study of children hospitalized with either newly diagnosed acute leukemia (n=280) or for a disease other than cancer or a birth defect (n=288). Mothers of the studied children completed interviews that covered alcohol use during pregnancy and a range of other topics (e.g., medical history, family history of cancer).

  • Any maternal alcohol use, versus abstinence, during pregnancy was significantly associated with childhood acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL) and acute nonlymphoid leukemia (ANLL) in analyses adjusted for potential confounders (odds ratios 2.0 and 2.6, respectively).
  • Results were similar for each alcoholic beverage type.
  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy was not significantly associated with childhood leukemia. Drinking 4–8 cups of coffee per day, however, appeared to significantly increase the odds of ALL (odds ratio 2.4), but not ANLL.


Although these findings need to be confirmed in other studies, they have important treatment and research implications. First, clinicians can now add the potential risk of childhood leukemia to the long list of reasons they tell their pregnant patients not to drink. Second, because alcohol is a carcinogen and was linked with childhood ALL and ANLL in this study, future research should explore how alcohol use may lead to these rare cancers.

Richard Saitz, MD, MPH
Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH


Menegaux F, Steffen C, Bellec S, et al. Maternal coffee and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, parental smoking and risk of childhood acute leukemia. Cancer Detect and Prev. 2005;29(6):487–493.