Dad, The Responsibility Is Yours

A Man's Prerogative?

A study completed in The People's Republic of China enforced the connection between smoking and cancer in young children. What was very interesting in this study, carried out in Shanghai, was that the burden of responsibility was not on the expectant mother, but rather upon the father. In China, most women do not smoke while most men smoke and drink quite heavily.

Children Pay The Price For Smoking Fathers

The risk for children under the age of five-years-old for several cancers common to children, including acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), lymphoma, and brain cancer, was highest for children whose fathers smoked heavily or for a long time prior to conception.

"This is the first epidemiologic study to suggest that duration of smoking and number of cigarettes smoked per day increases the risk of childhood cancer," said lead author Bu-Tian Ji, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Columbia University of New York. Co-authors of the study included people from the Shanghai Cancer Institute, the Shanghai Xinhua Hospital, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and the National Cancer Institute.

"An important feature of the study population was the wide range of smoking behaviour by fathers and the almost complete absence of smoking among mother," a pattern that is very common in China, said Dr. Ji. "Thus, it was possible to assess independently the effects of paternal smoking in the absence of maternal smoking."

The Study And The Results

In the Shanghai study, researchers interviewed the parents of 642 cancer patients under the age of 15, along with the parents of 642 Shanghai children who did not have cancer. The second group of parents were matched to the children with cancer according to the age and sex of the children, and served as a control group. The parents were asked about behaviors and exposures that could potentially be cancer risks. Family history, residential and occupational history, tobacco and alcohol use before and after conception, and birth-related events were all considered.

Fathers who smoked cigarettes were 30 percent more likely to have children with cancer than were fathers who had never smoked. There appeared to be increased risk related to smoking before conception as opposed to smoking after birth. The effect of second-hand smoke on pregnant women was not taken into consideration because at the time of this study, passive smoke was not considered a major risk factor. Today, we know passive smoke has a profound effect upon the health and safety of both the unborn baby and the mother.

Smoking Causes Damage To Sperm

The study did not address the issue of how paternal smoking might increase childhood cancer risk.  However, it is now well established that smoking causes genetic damage to sperm cells, which makes them inborn cancer-causing mutations in the baby.  “Results from our study may indicate a preventative strategy for men to reduce cancer risk in their offspring,” Dr. Ji concluded.  Indeed, fathers who stop smoking long in advance of conceiving children help to protect their unborn babies from myriad health problems