Pesticide-cancer study: Pesticide Childhood Cancer

Published: September 17, 2015

Pesticide-cancer study: Pesticide Childhood Cancer, Pesticide use in homes may increase the risk of children developing leukemia or lymphoma, a new report suggests.

Researchers combined data from 16 earlier studies that had compared pesticide exposure between children who developed leukemia or lymphoma and those who did not. These studies estimated the level of insecticides and herbicides both inside the home and in the yard and outdoor residential space.

The researchers concluded that children who had been exposed to insecticides indoors were 47% more likely to have leukemia and 43% more likely to have lymphoma. Although leukemia and lymphoma are rare — leukemia affects about five in 100,000 children in the United States — they are among the common types of childhood cancers.

“Childhood cancers are increasing year by year in this country, (and) there is disagreement about what is contributing to that, but pesticides have always been on the radar,” said Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who led the new research. The study will be published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.

This analysis “is confirming that pesticides may play a role, possibly a significant role, in the development of childhood leukemia and lymphoma,” Lu said. However, he added that it is hard to say at this point if exposure to these chemicals is definitely a risk factor for these cancers.

The association between pesticides and cancer risk is not necessarily limited to leukemia and lymphoma, either, Lu said. Pesticide exposure may also drive up the risk of other types of cancers, such as prostate and bladder, but they have not been studied as much, and are more difficult to research because they take longer to develop, he said. If childhood pesticide exposure helped trigger the onset of these other cancers, they might take many years, possibly into adulthood, to manifest.

The fact that the study found an association between only indoor use of insecticides and increased rates of cancer makes sense, Lu said, because there is less fresh air indoors to dilute the chemicals. And insecticides could be particularly damaging because they are sprayed around the home, whereas herbicides are usually used only around plants, he said.

Children can be exposed to pesticides by breathing them in or eating them, Lu said. Chemical residues linger on surfaces where children play or spend time, and they may get them on their hands and put their hands in their mouths. In general, children younger than age 12 appear to be most vulnerable to the possible cancer-causing effects of pesticides.

“We are starting to get to the place where there is enough science, it just starts to add up to say that we can’t really ignore anymore … the role of environmental factors like pesticides in health,” said Dr. Catherine J. Karr, professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of Washington.

“This study is a nice contribution because it focuses in on what is the effect of home use of pesticides versus (other) exposures.”

Other research has suggested a link between parents who are exposed to high levels to pesticides at work, such as through farming, and increased rates of cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, both in these adults and their children.

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