Risk of Childhood Leukemia May be Increased by Exposure to Household Insecticides

Household insecticides could raise the risk of acute leukemia in children, a French study published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal suggests after examining data from 568 children half of whom had acute leukemia.

According to the research team from the Inserm medical research institute, exposure to insecticidal shampoos to treat head lice doubled the risk of developing the disease.

Researchers interviewed mothers of 280 children with acute leukemia and another 288, who were the same sex and age, but did not have the disease, surveying employment history of both parents, and the use of insecticides in and around the home.

They found use of home insecticides during pregnancy increased the risk of leukemia by almost 200%. Researchers found that garden insecticides were associated with a 240% increase in risk, while fungicides were linked to a 250% increase.

Lead study author Dr. Florence Menegaux said it was still not certain whether insecticide use caused the leukemia, and it was unclear exactly which agent in it was potentially dangerous. She noted, however, that: “The findings of the study reinforce the hypothesis already suggested by the literature that household pesticide exposure may play a role in childhood acute leukemia.  The consistency of our results and the results from previous studies suggests that it may be opportune to consider preventative action."

There are those who are not inclined to concede the link just yet, however. Ken Campbell, of the Leukemia Research Fund, has labeled the link between insecticide use and leukemia as "contentious."  

Campbell states: "There are mixed reports and the problem is that the ones that make the link get the publicity.  There are two problems with this study, first, it is small, and, second, it depends on parental recall which is notoriously inaccurate. "I do not think this proves a link."

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