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Daily News Blog

10
Nov

Kids and Kidney Cancer: Implication for Prenatal Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, November 10, 2022) A meta-analysis by the University Alberta Hospital, Edmonton, AB, Canada, adds to the plethora of research linking prenatal (before birth/during pregnancy) pesticide exposure to carcinogenic (cancer) tumor development. The analysis, published in Human & Experimental Toxicology, finds parental exposure to pesticides during the preconception (before pregnancy) or pregnancy period increases the risk of Wilms’ tumor (a type of kidney cancer) occurrence among children. Already, studies find low levels of pesticide exposure during pregnancy or childhood cause adverse health effects, from metabolic disorders to mental and physical disabilities. Although medical advancements in disease survival are more prominent nowadays, childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. Furthermore, childhood cancer survivors can suffer from chronic or long-term health complications that may be life-threatening.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pesticide exposure as their developing bodies cannot adequately combat exposure effects. Moreover, a mother’s pesticide exposure can have a stronger association with cancer among a child than childhood exposure, and a newborn can still encounter pesticides. Therefore, it is essential to understand how pesticides impact the health and well-being of individuals during critical developmental periods, especially for latent diseases (e.g., cancers).

The researchers performed a systematic review and meta-analysis on case-control studies to determine a link between pesticide exposure (e.g., insecticides, herbicides) and Wilms’ tumor occurrence in children. To establish the connection, researchers used monographs (commentary studies) on specific organophosphate insecticides and herbicides from the International Association for the Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO). Researchers systematically reviewed PUBMED, SCOPUS, and Google Scholar studies (1960–2021) following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines.

The report also examines occupational versus residential exposure and before-birth (prenatal) versus after-birth (postnatal) exposure. These results strengthen the finding that parental pesticide exposure before or during pregnancy correlates with increased risk for Wilms’ tumor in a child. The IRAC/WHO monographs support this conclusion and policies to stop specific pesticide use to prevent future cases of cancer.

The connection between pesticides and cancer is significant as several studies link pesticide use and residues to various cancers (e.g., breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer). Sixty-six percent of all cancers have links to environmental factors, especially in occupations of high chemical use. In addition to links between agricultural practices and pesticide-related illnesses, over 65 percent of commonly used lawn pesticides and 70 percent of commonly used school pesticides have links to cancer. Although general pesticide exposure can increase susceptibility to cancer, prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants can increase cancer risk.

Exposure to the now-banned insecticide DDT increases the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Moreover, a 2021 study finds previous maternal exposure to the chemical compound during pregnancy can increase the risk of breast cancer and cardiometabolic disorders (e.g., heart disease, obesity, diabetes) up to three times in successive generations. 

This study reinforces concepts around “critical windows of exposure,” which suggests that prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increase susceptibility to health impacts. Thus, a parent’s exposure to pesticides during these critical periods is indicative of increased childhood disease risk. While Wilms’ tumor generally afflicts children under ten years of age, other early life exposures can take years and even decades before adverse health effects arise. Although 90 percent of kidney tumors among children are Wilms tumors, co-occurring diseases may arise from weakened immune function. Similar to this study, previous research demonstrates that even pregnant mothers’ exposure to household cleaners, many of which are pesticides, can increase nephroblastoma (kidney cancer) and brain tumor risk in children. The etiology or cause of childhood cancer involves the interaction of multiple components including lifestyle and genetics. However, emerging evidence indicates that environmental contaminants like pesticides (e.g., occupational exposures, air pollution, pesticides, solvents, diet, etc.) play a role in disease etiology. Pesticide contamination is widespread in all ecosystems, and chemical compounds can accumulate in human tissues resulting in chronic health effects. The study concludes, “Pesticide exposure in household/residential settings seems to contribute to Wilms’ tumor etiology. Additional investigations with an extensive sample size are required to conclude more confidently, probably involving low-/middle-income and high-income countries. This may be considered important in the post-pandemic era. In our opinion, there is some compelling evidence to robustly educate parents and/or guardians more regarding the appropriate use of chemical compounds and take necessary precautions to minimize the potential risks associated with their application.”

There is a strong consensus among pediatricians that pregnant mothers and young children should avoid pesticide exposure during critical windows of development. However, the general population should follow this advice as the effects of pesticide exposure can affect every individual. Fortunately, the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies allows for choices in residential and agricultural management to promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For instance, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic land management reduces human and environmental contamination from pesticides. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which curtail the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices. Numerous studies find that pesticide metabolite levels in urine significantly decrease when switching to an all-organic diet. For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers and the farmworkers that grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage on the Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent news and studies on pesticides through the Daily News Blog and Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the adverse effects of pesticides on human health, see PIDD pages on cancerbirth/fetal defects, and other diseases. Additionally, since pesticides can have multi-generation impacts on our health, you can learn more about the hazards posed to children’s health through Beyond Pesticide’s Pesticide and You Journal article, “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.”

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

Source: Human & Experimental Toxicology

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