Children whose mothers were exposed to the chemical benzene at the workplace while pregnant are at greater risk of developing leukemia, according to a study published in the journal Environmental International. The link was most pronounced among children younger than 5 years, and with a type of leukemia called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
Previous studies have shown a link between childhood household exposure to benzene-containing paints and solvents to childhood leukemia. Some research has even suggested a link between parental benzene exposure in the workplace to childhood leukemia. But the strongest evidence has been a person’s own benzene exposure to adult acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.
The study investigating whether pregnant women who work in environments contaminated with benzene are at greater risk of their child developing leukemia was conducted by researchers with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Researchers included children younger than 16 years of age in the analysis of census data from 1990 to 2000 and used parental occupation data to estimate benzene exposure and compared that with data from the Swiss Childhood Cancer Registry.
Researchers linked maternal exposure to benzene with an increased risk of childhood leukemia, but found no evidence that maternal exposure to benzene was linked to other types of cancer in children.
About 3 percent of childhood leukemia cases in Switzerland during the study period could be attributed to maternal benzene exposure, researchers said.
“A plausible explanation for our findings is that maternal exposure to benzene during pregnancy can initiate leukemia in the developing child,” the authors concluded.
Source: Cancer Network