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Daily News Blog

15
Apr

Household Pesticide Use During Pregnancy Linked to Nephroblastoma Kidney Cancer

(Beyond Pesticides, April 15, 2020) Home pesticide use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of a child developing the kidney cancer nephroblastoma, or Wilms’ tumor, according to research published in Cancer Epidemiology by a team of French scientists. Wilms’ tumor is one of the most common childhood cancers but has an inscrutable etiology. This study adds weight to the theory that pesticides are a driver of the tumor’s development, as pesticide use was more strongly associated than other widely investigated causes, including parental smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Families enrolled in an ongoing nationwide French study were questioned by phone about their lifestyle, including smoking habits, mother’s alcohol consumption, and household pesticide use. Participants were further segmented by their frequency of these risk factors, and pesticide use was narrowed down by type, including herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide use, as well as where the chemicals were used (indoor/outdoor). Researchers ultimately enrolled 117 families whose children developed nephroblastoma, and included 1100 families as a control.

A regression analysis found no association between either parent smoking and incidence of the disease. Similarly, no pattern was found in the relation between maternal alcohol consumption and Wilms’ tumor. However, use of any pesticides during pregnancy was associated with a higher risk of disease development. Families whose children developed nephroblastoma reported higher rates of pesticide use than control families (52% to 40%). While any pesticide use was associated with a higher risk, insecticides, particularly use of combinations of insecticides and other pesticides, showed stronger associations. The strongest link between Wilms’ tumor and environmental exposure was parental use of pesticides within three months of pregnancy.

This study reinforces concepts around “critical windows of exposure,” which posits that prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxins increase susceptibility to health impacts. While nephroblastoma generally afflicts children under the age of five, other early life exposures can take years, and even decades before health impacts arise. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2019 found that women exposed to the long-banned chemical DDT during childhood or puberty had an increased risk of developing cancer both before and after the age of 50. Researchers were able to determine how first exposure related to the timing of breast cancer development. Maternal exposure to DDT and its metabolites in the womb has also been linked to a higher chance of an autism diagnosis in children. Relevant to the current Covid19 pandemic, prenatal and infant exposure to DDT and other organochlorine class pesticides has been linked to poorer lung function in adolescence.

The present study did not zero in on the exact pesticides associated with Wilms’ tumor, but current evidence indicates that it is not only banned chemicals like DDT that are harming mothers and children during critical windows of development. A 2018 study published in Environmental Health found that women with high levels of the weedkiller glyphosate in their bodies were more likely to have shorter pregnancies, which puts children at risk delayed brain development and learning disabilities.  

Nephroblastoma is not the only cancer that has been linked to household pesticide use. A 2017 study published in Cancer Epidemiology using the same French cohort found an association between past use of pesticides in the home and the development of brain tumors in children under the age of 15. Nicolas Vidart d’Egurbide Bagazgoïtia, PhD, lead author of the study, noted, “Although such retrospective studies cannot identify specific chemicals used or quantify the exposure, our findings add another reason to advise mothers to limit their exposure to pesticides around the time of pregnancy.”

There a strong consensus among pediatricians that pregnant mothers and young children should avoid pesticide exposure during these critical windows of development. Given the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies to manage common household pests, these precautions represent low-hanging fruit for new families wishing to give their children a safe and healthy head start in the world.

For more information on the link between pesticide use and cancer, and to learn more about critical windows of exposure for young children, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Cancer Epidemiology

 

 

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  • Archives

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