Children, Cancer, and the Environment

Wilms Tumor

Wilms tumor is by far the most common cancerous tumor of the kidney in children, representing about 90% of cases of this disease. 

Few studies have been done to determine its causes in children.

Recent studies have found that children of parents who used pesticides in their jobs or around their homes were more likely to have Wilms tumor than children whose parents did not report such pesticide use.  Not all studies have found such a relationship.  Because Wilms tumor is most common in very young children, it is reasonable to suppose that parental exposures may be important.

·        One study found that children living in houses that had been exterminated have a risk 2.2 times higher than other children of having the disease (1).  However, the frequency of extermination did not affect this risk.

·        In Brazil, researchers found that children whose parents had used agricultural pesticides at least ten times were more than three times as likely as other children to be diagnosed with the disease by age 10.  The risk increased as the frequency of use of pesticides increased.  This study did not specifically measure the timing of the use of the pesticides to determine whether it occurred during pregnancy or before conception.  Risks were highest for children under four (2).

·        A study looking at death certificates for children in England and Wales looked at occupational exposures of fathers of children who died of cancer.  The study looked at almost 170,000 death certificates.  It found that the risk of death from Wilms tumor was higher for children whose fathers worked in agriculture.  This was not true for any other childhood cancer in this study (3).

·        A study in Norway reported that children diagnosed with Wilms tumor by age five were more likely to have fathers who worked with pesticide spraying equipment than other children (4).

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1.  Olshan AF, Breslow NE, Falletta JM, Grufferman S, Pendergrass T, Robison LL, Waskerwitz M, Woods WG, Vietti TJ, Hammond GD. Risk factors for Wilms tumor. Report from the National Wilms Tumor Study. Cancer 1993; 72:938-44.

2. Sharpe CR, Franco EL, de Camargo B, Lopes LF, Barreto JH, Johnsson RR, Mauad MA. Parental exposures to pesticides and risk of Wilms' tumor in Brazil. American Journal of Epidemiology 1995; 141:210-7.

3.   Fear NT, Roman E, Reeves G, Pannett B. Childhood cancer and paternal employment in agriculture: the role of pesticides. British Journal of Cancer 1998; 77:825-9.

4.  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. International Journal of  Cancer 1996; 65:39-50.

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