Exposure to pesticides in the womb or as a child can double the risk of developing acute leukaemia, French scientists said on Tuesday. They discovered that children born to women who used insecticides in the home while pregnant and after the birth were nearly twice as likely as other youngsters to develop leukaemia.
Even insecticidal shampoos to kill head lice raised the odds of the disease.
“The results… support the hypothesis that various types of insecticide exposure may be a risk factor for childhood acute leukaemia,” said Dr Florence Menegaux, of the research institute INSERM Villejuif, France, in a report in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The researchers discovered the link after interviewing the mothers of 280 children who had been diagnosed with leukaemia and of 288 healthy children.
They found that youngsters exposed to fungicides and garden insecticides had more than double the risk of the illness than other children.
Although no specific product was singled out in the study, the scientists said their findings and results from other research suggest action to prevent exposure to insecticides should be considered.
Leukaemia is the most common cancer in children. Symptoms include anaemia, joint pain and repeated infections. Children with the illness may also have nosebleeds and bruising without any apparent cause.
Chemotherapy, which is very effective against the disease, is the standard treatment.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD