Exploring the Link Between Everyday Chemicals and Brain Tumors

Many of us are aware that certain chemicals and solvents found in the workplace are linked to types of cancer, but Americans may inadvertently be exposing themselves to commonplace chemicals that can increase their risk of brain tumors.

According to researchers who will present at the Seventh National Brain Tumor Conference in September, dry cleaning products, nail polish and flea repellent are some of the products that are being researched for their possible links to brain tumors.

"With brain tumors, studies increasingly show correlations between certain environmental agents and rates of the illness. Today, many scientists believe that environmental factors may contribute to brain tumors," says Gina Solomon, MD, MHP, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Solomon researches the possible links between illness, including brain tumors and hazards found in our everyday environment. She will speak at the upcoming 7th National Brain Tumor Conference in San Francisco on Sept. 21.

The number of brain tumors diagnosed every year is increasing and scientists are looking for answers to explain why. Finding a direct causal relationship between possibly harmful environmental agents and brain tumors is very difficult because scientists cannot ethically dose humans with measured amounts of possible carcinogens. Instead, scientists look for trends that may indicate links between a substance and brain tumors to determine if exposure to a substance may be risky.

"Some environmental agents [researchers have investigated as links] to brain tumors include pesticides, radiation, solvents, N-nitroso compounds and electromagnetic fields," says Solomon.

Epidemiologists are starting to look at clusters of brain tumors and trying to find a common link. Some of these studies have revealed some startling results, she notes. For instance, one study in Los Angeles found that the household use of flea or tick products on dogs or cats was associated with a 70 percent increase in the risk of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children under five. Another study showed that women who worked in the chemical industry during the five years prior to a child's birth were 3.3 times more likely to have a child with a brain tumor compared with those who did not work in these industries.

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