Pesticides linked to higher risk of brain cancer in children

pesticide photoPhoto © AdobeStock

Pesticides and pregnancy don’t mix, a recent study suggests. Noting earlier studies that suggested exposure to pesticides during pregnancy could be linked to childhood brain tumors, French researchers studied 437 cases of malignant brain tumors in children and compared them to 3,102 children without brain tumors.

They found a 1.4 times greater risk of childhood brain tumor in children whose mothers reported using pesticides — particularly insecticides — during their pregnancy.

The investigators noted that many pesticide compounds are classified as probable carcinogens, and there is evidence that some insecticides can pass through the feto-placental barrier.

“Although such retrospective studies cannot identify specific chemicals used or quantify the exposure, our findings add another reason to advise mothers to limit their exposure to pesticides around the time of pregnancy ,” said Nicolas Vidart d’Egurbide Bagazgoïtia, lead author of the study, published in the International Journal of Cancer.

First trimester

On its website, the American Pregnancy Association advises avoiding pesticides during pregnancy and notes that the greatest risk to the fetus comes during the first three to eight weeks of the first trimester, when neural tube development is occurring.

“The safest rule of thumb is that pregnant women should avoid pesticides whenever possible,” the association says. It notes the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program reports that three out of every four women are exposed to pesticides around the home. They also observed that pregnant women exposed to household gardening pesticides had a modest risk increase for oral clefts, neural tube defects, heart defects and limb defects. Women living within 1/4 mile of agricultural crops had the same modest risk increase for neural tube defects.

There are other risks of exposure to presticides by children and fetuses. A study in Environmental Health Perspectives Journal (EHP) found that children exposed to indoor pesticides were at an elevated risk of leukemia. The study found that the risk is increased during the first three months of pregnancy and when professional pest control services are used in the home.

What to do

The pregnancy association recommends these steps to lessen the risk to the fetus if pesticides absolutely must be used during pregnancy:

  • Have someone else apply the pesticides;
  • Leave the area for the amount of time indicated on the pesticide package;
  • Remove food, dishes, and utensils from the area before the pesticide is used;
  • Wash the area where food is normally prepared following any application of pesticides in the home;
  • Open the windows and allow the house to ventilate after the treatment is completed; and
  • Wear protective clothing when gardening to prevent contact with plants that have pesticide on them.

Call your poison center at (800) 222-1222 immediately if a pesticide comes in contact with your skin, is inhaled, or is swallowed. Try to have the pesticide container with you when you call.


About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for and