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Am J Public Health. 1985 May; 75(5): 487–492.
PMCID: PMC1646286

Cancer risk in adulthood from early life exposure to parents' smoking.


We obtained data on smoking by parents from 438 cancer cases and 470 controls to investigate whether cancer risk in adult life is related to transplacental or childhood exposure to cigarette smoke. Cancer cases were between ages 15 and 59 at time of diagnosis. All sites but basal cell cancer of the skin were included. Cancer risk was increased 50 per cent among offspring of men who smoked. Increased risk associated with father's smoking was not explained by demographic factors, social class, or individual smoking habits, and was not limited to known smoking related sites. Relative risk (RR) estimates associated with father's smoking tended to be greatest for smokers, males, and non-Whites. There was only a slight increase in overall cancer risk associated with maternal smoking. Mother's and father's smoking were both associated with risk for hematopoietic cancers, and a dose-response relationship was seen. The RR for hematopoietic cancers increased from 1.7 when one parent smoked to 4.6 when both parents smoked. Although they should be considered tentative, study findings suggest a long-term hazard from transplacental or childhood passive exposure to cigarette smoke.

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