Childhood Cancer and the Environment
June 24, 2014
Is childhood leukemia another canary in the coal mine for environmental health threats and disease?
Between 1975 and 2011, the U.S. has seen a 55% increase in the number of children diagnosed annually with childhood leukemia. Ninety percent of these children will be cured. However the emotional and financial costs of this stark increase in cancer rates are significant and the threat of subsequent adult development of cancers is high.
Research has shown that environmental hazards play a role in the development of childhood leukemia, including ionizing radiation, solvents, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and tobacco smoke. For a variety of reasons children are more vulnerable to these toxics than are adults. Children have higher levels of skin and dietary exposure, higher body-surface-to-weight ratio, and higher food and water intake in proportion to body size. Pesticide exposure is high among farmworker children who can be exposed in utero, or through breast milk, from pesticide drift, by contact with family members’ contaminated work clothing, or via working in the field themselves. House dust is another significant route of toxic exposure: recent research has shown an increase in acute lymphoblastic leukemia among those children exposed to higher levels of PCBs in house dust.
Healthcare providers can play a critical role in reducing exposures to children and pregnant women through anticipatory, preventative guidance during the preconception, prenatal and postnatal periods.
Learn more about the ways children are exposed to harmful environmental chemicals which may cause cancer -- and the need to focus our policies, healthcare and research on prevention -- in the latest Environmental Health Policy Institute.
PCBs: Cancer Linkage Found Decades after a Ban
Anneclaire J. De Roos, MPH, PhD
Protecting Farmworker Children from Pesticide Exposure
Joan Flocks, JD, MA
Childhood Leukemia: An Ounce of Prevention
Mark Miller MD, MPH; Catherine Metayer, MD, PhD; and Gary Dahl, MD
Parental Pesticide Exposure Linked to Childhood Cancer
Jennifer Runkle, PhD, MSPH
The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.