Elevated risk of Blood Cancers for Individuals Raised on Livestock Farms

In a BMJ publication, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers from New Zealand and England reported that the risk of developing blood cancers was higher in individuals raised on a livestock farm compared to other people. Further, the risk was found to be 3 times higher for those growing up on a poultry farm.

Evidence from prior studies suggests that being a farmer is associated with the risk of developing blood cancer. Exposure to pesticides, infections, and/or contact with animals are also found to be contributory factors. Nevertheless, a large part of published research emphasizes only on adults rather than examining potential early life factors.

Andrea ‘t Mannetje and team from the Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand used 114,000 death certification records to gather data of New Zealanders between the ages of 35 and 85 from 1998 to 2003. Nearly 82% (94,054) of the records revealed data about their routine jobs.

It was found that approximately 3,000 out of 94,054 New Zealanders died of blood cancers. The researchers established that individuals raised on a livestock farms were at a higher risk of developing blood cancers. However, no such obvious association was noted for those raised on crop farms.

The authors noted that compared to other individuals, those raised on a livestock farm were at a 22% higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and leukemia. Moreover, individuals who spent the early years of their life on a poultry farm were at the greatest risk (3 times higher).

The authors also wrote: “Growing up on an arable/crop farm conferred an almost 20% lower risk of developing a blood cancer, but crop farming as an adult was associated with an almost 50% increased risk. Working on a livestock farm as an adult also seemed to lessen the risk by 20% – with the exception of beef cattle farming, where the risk was three times as high. These findings held true, even after taking account of factors likely to influence the results and after comparison with different causes of death.”

Although establishment of a definitive cause-and-effect necessitates additional research, researchers are of the opinion that as per the findings of their study, farming exposures during adulthood and childhood play separate roles in the development of blood cancers.

The authors also propose that those raised on livestock farms may likely be exposed to specific viruses during their childhood thus affecting their immune system and making them more susceptible to blood cancers in later life.

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