Imbibing substantial amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition characterized by birth defects ranging from abnormal facial features to severe neurological defects. New studies with rats indicate that a previously unrecognized risk to the fetus, cancer later in life, might come from even modest in utero exposure to alcohol.
Leena Hilakivi-Clarke of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., fed alcohol to 30 pregnant rats each day during their latter two trimesters. Half consumed small amounts, such that 7 percent of their daily calories came from the alcohol. The other half consumed twice that quantity of alcohol. "These [amounts] are similar to those seen in low-to-modest alcohol drinkers . . . and lower than those found to induce fetal alcohol syndrome," says Clarke in the June 1 British Journal of Cancer. A third group of rats received no alcohol.