Children, Cancer, and the Environment

Neuroblastoma and cancers of the nerves

Some cancers form in the nerves that provide signals to organs such as the lungs, liver, and heart and that tell the body how to respond to stress.  These nerves are part of the sympathetic nervous system.  These nerves have fibers that transmit signals.  Sometimes they develop tumors.  Neuroblastoma is by far the most common of these.

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infants.  It usually begins to develop before birth (1).

Studies have looked at the occupation of parents of children with neuroblastoma to get clues about exposures that may lead to the cancer.  Children with neuroblastoma were more likely to have parents working in certain occupations.  These included father working as landscapers and groundskeepers or mothers working as farmers, farm workers, florists, or garden store employees.  All of these occupations many have pesticide exposures.

·        A study that compared children with neuroblastoma to children without the disease in an area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident found that parental exposures to herbicides and pesticides was more common in children with neuroblastoma {OR = 4.2; 95% CI = 1.4 – 2.9}(2).

·        A large study of cancer in the children of farmers in Norway found that children of parents who worked with pesticides were at increased risk for all cancers from birth to four years of age and were at particular risk of neuroblastoma (3)

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On to next: Malignant bone tumors (Ewings sarcoma)


1.  Campleman SL, Schlag R, Perkins CL, Glazer E, Kwong SL, Cress RD, Wright WE. Childhood Cancer in California 1988-94. Sacramento: California Department of Health Services, 1999.

2.   Michaelis J, Haaf HG, Zöllner J, Kaatsch P, Krummenauer F, Berthold F. Case control study of neuroblastoma in west-Germany after the Chernobyl accident. Klinische Padiatrie 1996; 208:172-8.

3.   Kristensen P, Andersen A, Irgens LM, Bye AS, Sundheim L. Cancer in offspring of parents engaged in agricultural activities in Norway: incidence and risk factors in the farm environment. Int J Cancer 1996; 65:39-50.

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