Tobacco Carcinogen Shows
Up in Smokers' Newborn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers on Tuesday said they had found traces of a cancer-causing agent in the urine of babies born to women who smoked.
Of 31 babies born to smokers, 22 had the chemical in the first sample of urine collected after birth, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Stephen Hecht of the University of Minnesota and colleagues at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany said they found by-products of NNK, a chemical derived from nicotine, in the urine they tested.
NNK is known to cross the placenta from mother to baby, and causes cancer in animals.
Although nicotine itself is not considered to be a cancer-causing agent, some of its breakdown products are.
Hecht, who reported some of his findings last year to a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, said the study showed that babies are absorbing cancer-causing agents from their mothers before birth.
Other studies have shown that mothers can pass on elements of tobacco smoke to their babies in breast milk.
Smoking is known to increase the risk of having a baby with a low birth weight, as well are increasing the risk of losing a baby to sudden infant death syndrome, also known as SIDS or crib death.
"In spite of this, only 39 percent of smokers quit while pregnant and of those who quit, 70 percent resume within one year of giving birth," Hecht wrote.
He said studies are not yet clear on whether babies born to smokers are at higher risk of cancer in their lifetimes.
Hecht reported in 1997 that NNK had been found in the urine of nonsmoking adults who were exposed to cigarette smoke at work.