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Possible Environmental Causes of Childhood Leukemia
A recurring thread amongst the parents in the online ALL discussion list is: "What caused my child's leukemia?" We all wonder whether we might have used a pesticide, household cleaner, paint, etc. that caused our children to get leukemia. Or was it industrial pollution, electromagnetic fields, or radiation? Clusters of cases of childhood ALL have been in the press, what caused them? How can we get the environment cleared of possible causes of leukemia and other childhood cancers?
Not many agents have been officially documented as causes of leukemia. Two of these agents are: benzene and radiation (in general, not specifically childhood leukemia; the carcinogenic properties of these two agents is supported by a multitude of journal articles and MSDSs).
A lot of other factors that are suspected to increase the risk for childhood leukemia have been studied. In acute lymphoblastic leukemia, most researchers believe that it takes 2 or 3 "hits" to the DNA in just the right places to turn a normal developing cell into a leukemia cell. The hits might be totally random (meaning they happen as a result of mistakes in DNA synthesis) or they can be from exposure to something in the environment. Some research shows that the hits can happen in utero or even because the father's sperm was compromised.
The purpose of this section is to gather information on research into the causes of leukemia in order to give parents a place to start their own research. I also list organizations that are seeking to rid the environment of causes of childhood cancer.
Note: This page focuses on environmental causes. Genetic factors that lend to susceptibility to leukemia (for instance, Down's Syndrome) are discussed on the cancer.gov web site.
A Summary on EnviroHealthPolicy.net
The above website is dated 2001 and includes journal references. Includes pesticides, radon, EMFs, solvents, ionizing radiation. The author is an expert in environmental issues and currently is at Univ. Cal. Berkeley School of Public Health. (2011)
Magnetic fields have come and gone and come again as causes of leukemia. On the National Radiological Protection Board site, the following is a link to a 2000 article on a large study of the effects of electromagnetic fields and children with/without leukemia:
- Magnetic Fields and Childhood Leukaemia, discusses a large study of the effects of electromagnetic fields and children with/without leukemia with bibliographical references
You can find more articles on this topic on the National Radiological Protection Board site by going to their search page and typing in "leukaemia" (it's British!). The same search will also pull up articles on the connection between ionizing radiation and leukemia.
In the July 1, 2004 of the New England Journal of Medicine, Hocking (Australia) claims there is an association between leukemia and magnetic fields. See: correspondence, Magnetic Fields and Leukemia, Bruck Hocking, M.B., B.S., July 1, 2004. Abstract.
2007 WHO fact sheet:
Magnetic Field Exposure and Cancer on the NCI site:
Questions and Answers about EMF on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) web site.
2005 article on power lines/leukemia in Lancet Oncology.
Radio Frequency Safety on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) web site.
A few childhood ALL clusters have been documented. If you know about one and would like it listed here, let me know. If you feel that your area has too many cases of childhood ALL per population, there's not a lot I know about to help you, except to try to get the public health records by zip code. If you join the ALL-kids list, someone there might be able to help you.
A lot of the web-based information on studies of leukemia clusters comes from the United Kingdom. From the Leukaemia Research Fund web site: "in 1994 the Royal Society of Edinburgh held a Symposium on Leukaemia Clusters, the report of this meeting is made available by kind permission of the Royal Society." (Occasional Paper) Unfortunately, by 2011 the Leukaemia Research Fund melded into Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, Beating Blood Cancers, and a lot of the good information from the original site was not carried through. I have a printed copy of this article somewhere. (PF, 2011)
- Fallon, NV: Deadly Oasis A documentary about the Fallon leukemia cluster. Ordering information from the above link.
- Fallon Cancer Crisis
- Fallon Cancer Cluster Studies investigate tungsten, infection as causes. (6/2011)
One theory is that leukemia can come about as the result of an inappropriate response to an infection by a virus or germ in early childhood. Kinlen and Hall have studied population mixing in the United Kingdom, and have done a lot of epidemiological studies, especially on childhood leukemia in mobile populations. Search PubMed for LJ Kinlen, also see this blurb from a 1999 press article. Andy Hall will snail mail the research paper to anyone who asks for it. Louise Parker (one of the docs that did the research) will answer any questions. (Please e-mail Patty if you wish to contact these people.)
"What do epidemiologists mean by population mixing?" An article in Pediatric Blood and Cancer, 2008.
At one time, JP-8 jet fuel was thought to be a concern in the Fallon cluster (date in the link below is around fall of 2001). Jet fuel has also been in the press off and on as a possible cause of leukemia in other situations.
- Environmental Health Perspectives article on JP-8
Note by PF: This is the first article I've read with such a high percentage of cases caused by natural radiation. A decade ago I searched for radon-caused links, and found none. (2011)
Numbers and proportions of leukemias in young people and adults induced by radiation of natural origin. Gerald Kendalla, Mark P. Little and Richard Wakeford, Leukemia Research, Volume 35, Issue 8, August 2011, Pages 1039-1043. Abstract. "We use recent estimates of doses to the red bone marrow to calculate the number and proportion of cases of leukemia in England induced by natural radiation. . . . In young people up to the age of 25 years the attributable fraction is about 15%, substantially lower than a previous estimate." Natural origin radiation includes cosmic rays and long-lived natural radionuclides, e.g., radon. The latter can be either inhaled or ingested.
Web Sites with Overviews on the Causes of Leukemia
Chem-Tox site Environmental causes of childhood cancer. Interesting reading. I do not vouch for the validity of all of their statements.
See also: Causes of Childhood Cancer (on this ped-onc site)
Ongoing Scientific Studies on the Causes of Cancer
Building a Network of Research in Children's Environmental Health by Dearry AD, Collman GW, Saint C, Fields N, Redd S. (Not really a survey of what causes ALL, but a statement of governmental concern about possible environmental risks and directives for studying the same.) Full Text.
This Ped Onc page links to groups interested in the effect of the environment on the health of children.
The lengthy bibliography is on a separate page:
These pages are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to render medical advice. The information provided on Ped Onc Resource Center should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you suspect your child has a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.