UK Research Links Possible
Viral Infection To
Childhood Leukemia
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 England.
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 Cancer.
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 countryside.
He said the new findings should encourage research in the search for the cause.