- LONDON - Childhood leukaemia
is caused by an infection and clusters of cases around industrial sites
are the result of population mixing that increases exposure, cancer researchers
said on Saturday, citing new findings in Britain.
- The research published in the British Journal of Cancer
backs up a 1988 theory that some as yet unidentified infection causes leukaemia
" not the environmental factors widely blamed for the disease.
- Childhood leukaemia appears to be "an unusual result
of a common infection,'' said Sir Richard Doll, an internationally-known
cancer expert who first linked tobacco with lung cancer in 1950. "A
virus is the most likely explanation.
- "You would get an increased risk of it if you suddenly
put a lot of people from large towns in a rural area, where you might have
people who had not been exposed to the infection,'' he told Reuters.
- Doll was commenting on the new findings by researchers
at Newcastle University, which focused on a cluster of leukaemia cases
around the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria in northern
- Scientists have been trying to establish why there was
more leukaemia in children around the Sellafield area, but have failed
to establish a link with radiation or pollution.
- The Newcastle University research by Heather Dickinson
and Louise Parker showed the cluster of cases could have been predicted
because of the amount of population mixing going on in the area, as large
numbers of construction workers and nuclear staff moved into a rural setting.
- "Our study shows that population mixing can account
for the (Sellafiled) leukaemia cluster and that all children, whether their
parents are incomers or locals, are at a higher risk if they are born in
an area of high population mixing,'' Dickinson said in a statement issued
by the Cancer Research Campaign, which publishes the British Journal of
- Their paper adds crucial weight to the 1988 theory put
forward by Leo Kinlen, a cancer epidemoiolgist at Oxford University, that
said exposure to a common unidentified infection through population mixing
results in the disease.
- Kinlen, commenting on the findings, said the challenge
now was "to identify the infective agent and at the moment scientists
have little idea what it could be.''
- Doll said an increased risk of childhood leukaemia had
also been noticed during World War Two in areas where British children
were moved in large numbers from cities that were being bombed into the
- He said the new findings should encourage research in
the search for the cause.