Workers' Chemical Exposure Linked to Childs' Cancer

A man's on-the-job exposure to certain substances including lacquer thinner, turpentine, diesel fuel and wood dust may increase the chances that his child will develop a type of childhood cancer, according to a study.

A man's on-the-job exposure to certain substances including lacquer thinner, turpentine, diesel fuel and wood dust may increase the chances that his child will develop a type of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, according to a study in the July 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Neuroblastoma occurs in infants, children and, very rarely, adults. It is a quick-growing cancer that arises in nerve tissue. By the time it is diagnosed, the disease has usually spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver or bones. Treatment involves a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant.

Lead author of the study Dr. Anneclaire J. De Roos of the Children's Cancer Group in Arcadia, Calif., and colleagues interviewed 472 fathers of children under the age of 19 who had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. They were compared with 445 fathers of healthy children.

Men who reported being exposed to various chemicals at their workplace had a greater risk of having children with neuroblastoma, the investigators found.

The study cites exposure to turpentine, lacquer thinner, diesel fuel, solders and wood dust as having the strongest association with the illness. Exposure to turpentine increased neuroblastoma risk more than 10-fold, while men exposed to lacquer thinner were 3.5 times as likely to have a child with neuroblastoma.

"There was little evidence that any of the maternal exposures were associated with an increased incidence of neuroblastoma in offspring," the researchers noted.

One possible explanation for the finding may be that the chemical exposure damages a man's sperm, the authors speculate.

"There are human data demonstrating that paternal exposures can cause mutations in sperm DNA, and animal models provide some evidence that paternal exposure can increase the risk of cancer in offspring via mutations in the germ cell line," De Roos and colleagues wrote.

The investigators are calling for more research to determine the role of parents' occupations in their children's risk of neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is the third most common type of cancer in children.

Of the estimated 8,600 childhood cancers that will be diagnosed during 2001, approximately 7.5 percent will be neuroblastomas. The disease affects 1 out of 80,000 to 100,000 children under the age of 15. There are approximately 550 new cases of neuroblastoma diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Edited by Virginia Foran

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