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PLoS One. 2016 Nov 8;11(11):e0165040. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165040. eCollection 2016.

Maternal Smoking and the Risk of Cancer in Early Life - A Meta-Analysis.

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Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland.
Department of Health Protection, National Institute of Health and Welfare, Kuopio, Finland.
School of Pharmacy/Toxicology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio Finland.
Department of Information Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland and Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Division of Family Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Health Protection, National Institute of Health and Welfare, Oulu, Finland.



In spite of the well-known harmful effects on the fetus, many women continue smoking during pregnancy. Smoking as an important source of toxic chemicals may contribute to the developmental origin of diseases.


The aim of this work was to pursue the possible association between maternal smoking and cancer in early life. Specifically, we wanted to identify the associated early life cancer types, and to quantify the associations.


In a systematic literature search 825 articles were identified in PubMed and Web of Science, and 55 more through the reference lists. Of these 62 fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in meta-analyses. Using Mantel-Haenszel or DerSimonian and Laird method, depending on heterogeneity of the studies, pooled estimates and 95% confidence intervals for eight cancer types were calculated.


Smoking during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for for brain and central nervous system tumors (OR = 1.09; 95% CI = 1.02-1.17). Although the risk for lymphoma was also associated (OR = 1.21; 95% CI = 1.05-1.34), it did not hold up in subgroup analyses. Leukemia was not found to be associated with maternal smoking. Five other cancer types (bone, soft tissue, renal, hepatic, and germ cell cancer) were also examined, but the number of studies was too limited to exclude the possibility of maternal smoking as a risk factor for cancer in offspring.


According to our meta-analyses, maternal smoking is associated with nervous system cancers, but not with leukemia in early life. Confirming or rejecting associations of maternal smoking with lymphoma and the five other cancer types requires further studies.

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