What is it like to life with childhood cancer?
The Children’s Cancer Research Fund shares Jillian’s story:
Shortly after her 4th birthday, Jillian of Waconia, Minnesota was diagnosed with B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. An otherwise healthy and physically active child who loves swimming and horseback riding, Jillian started experiencing sharp bodily pains and a high fever a short time after starting pre-school. At first, her parents assumed it was just a pre-school related bug however, when the symptoms only became worse, they went to see a specialist at the University of Minnesota on April 26, 2013. They received the shock of their lives when Jillian’s blood work identified patterns consistent with leukemia. Due to the advanced stage of leukemia, Jillian was continually in pain, and luckily the nurse at the Explorer Clinic for the University of Minnesota was able to get Jillian admitted a few weeks earlier. Jillian wouldn’t have made it until her scheduled appointment in May.
Jillian immediately started receiving chemotherapy treatment that is predicted to last two or up to three-and-half years. Dealing with Jillian’s illness has changed the family’s lifestyle and activities due to needing to assess all Jillian‘s potential activities deciding if she can participate based on whether benefit outweighs the potential risks. She won’t be going back to pre-school until after the delayed intensification phase of her treatment has been completed.1)http://www.childrenscancer.org/main/kids_stories/jillians_story_surviving_b_cell_acute_lymphoblastic_leukemia/
For families living with childhood cancer, these choices about which risks are acceptable and which are not due to weakened immunes systems are hard ones to make. Were there other choices that could have prevented the childhood cancer?
Harvard researchers have found childhood exposure to indoor residential insecticides are associated with a “significant increase in risk” of childhood leukemia and childhood lymphomas.
A new study published by Harvard University has found household use of pesticides, specifically insecticides, is linked to a higher rate of the most common forms of childhood cancer leukemia and lymphoma. Herbicides, like Roundup, were also found to increase childhood leukemia rates.
“It is very troubling, albeit not surprising, to see additional scientific evidence linking pesticide use to childhood cancer,” said Ken Cook, EWG president and co-founder. “The findings confirm parents’ worst fears that they could be unknowingly exposing their children to harmful chemicals that can lead to serious, even life-threatening, illnesses.”
“This study should remind us once again that we must protect our kids by curtailing our use of these toxic chemicals in and outside of the home,” Cook added.
The results from a meta-analysis, to be published in the journal Pediatrics in October, combined 16 studies reporting children’s exposure to pesticides used in and around the home. As the authors noted, children are more vulnerable to harmful pesticides because their bodies and immune systems are still developing. The researchers added that infants and toddlers are at especially high risk of exposure because they often play on pesticide-treated lawns or on carpets or floors where pesticide residues accumulate, and then put their hands and fingers in their mouths.
“Parents should consider the danger of pesticides in terms of the lethal toxicity of any products and the proximity to where your children play, eat, rest and sleep,” said Dr. Alex Lu, a Harvard Chan School of Public Health associate professor and senior author of the study. “This is also true for schools, playgrounds and sports fields.”
Lu added, “There is no justification for using chemical pesticides to maintain buildings, play areas or sport fields. There are plenty of non-chemical based treatments that will serve the purpose.”2)http://www.ewg.org/release/study-links-childhood-cancer-and-home-pesticide-use#.VglV75pYi7w.twitter
US News & World Report further describes the study:
For the study, Lu’s team pooled the results from 16 international studies done between 1993 and 2013. All the studies compared children with cancer to a healthy group of kids, and gauged past pesticide exposure through parent interviews.
Overall, children who’d been exposed to any indoor insecticides were 43 percent to 47 percent more likely to have leukemia or lymphoma, the findings showed. Outdoor insecticides were not linked to the cancers.
Kids exposed to weed killers, meanwhile, had a 26 percent higher risk of leukemia, the investigators found.
Those figures might sound alarming, but Khatib said it’s important to keep them in perspective. “That would mean that instead of one in 10,000 kids developing leukemia, you’d have about 1.5 in 10,000,” he pointed out.
“It’s a very small risk,” Khatib added. Still, he said, it’s a risk factor that can be avoided.
The analysis, of 16 studies done since the 1990s, found that children exposed to indoor insecticides had an elevated risk of developing the blood cancers. There was also a weaker link between exposure to weed killers and the risk of leukemia.3)http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/09/14/home-pesticide-use-tied-to-child-cancer-risk
We need to end this attitude that pesticides and herbicides are safe to use in any amounts. “It’s a risk factor that can be avoided”4)http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/09/14/home-pesticide-use-tied-to-child-cancer-risk
Every home will at one point experience pests. We have been experiencing an inundation of Indian meal moths. When discussing this problem with a family member who had a prior moth infestation, she recommended throwing everything out and calling the exterminator. That’s what she did. I won’t do this. We have been trapping and cleaning to get rid of the moths. Sure it is taken months of vigilance, but at least we did not expose our children to insecticides.
Another family member that lives in the South also has regular treatments around the home for ants. She said that you have to in the South, or it will get out of control. She feeds her family mostly organic food, yet thinks because the exterminator is careful to only apply the insecticides outside the home away from where they play that it is safer. She may be right, as the Harvard researchers did not find a link between outdoor insecticide use and childhood cancer.5)http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/pesticide-exposure-in-childhood-linked-to-cancer/
I share these two family examples to illustrate the attitude common in America that pesticides and herbicides are safe. I remember flea bombs in our home growing up. We have all been exposed. We eat organically, why do we not treat our homes the same way?
There are many safer alternatives to insecticides in the home. For example, we have successfully deterred ants from our kitchen using peppermint oil. There are many commercial products available that offer a safer alternative to conventional insecticides, like EcoSmart.
Any parent does not want to make decisions that put their child at risk, but the attitude that pesticides and herbicides are safe to use around the home does exactly that. The Harvard research is just further proof.
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization:
Each year in the U.S. there are an estimated 15,780 children between the ages of birth and 19 years of age who are diagnosed with cancer. Approximately 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday. Globally there are more than 250,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year. Every 3 minutes, somewhere in the world a family hears the devastating words that their child has been diagnosed with cancer. While survival rates for many types of childhood cancer have improved, for too many children, cancer will shorten their lives too soon. Cancer remains the most common cause of death by disease for children in America.
A research link is not a cause, but it does show an association. Harvard researchers called the association between childhood leukemia and lymphoma and residential pesticide use “significant”. 6)http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-0006.abstract?sid=6f4d081e-f317-4bdc-8ac6-8c6b9d6d42dfThe lead author did caution parents:
“We don’t know ‘how much’ exposure it takes, or if there’s a critical window in development,” Chensheng (Alex) Lu, senior author and associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard Chan School, said September 14, 2015 in U.S. News & World Report. “Is the window during pregnancy? Or even before pregnancy? That will take a much deeper investigation,” he said…
While more research needs to be done on the findings, Lu thinks it’s wise to limit babies’ and children’s exposure to pesticides, especially the ones used indoors that were linked to leukemia and lymphoma, according to the story.7)http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/pesticide-exposure-in-childhood-linked-to-cancer/
References [ + ]