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Childhood bone cancer linked with congenital hernias and farm occupation in parents

Scientists at QIMR’s Clive Berghofer Cancer Research Centre have extensively researched numerous international studies and have determined a link between a childhood cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) and children born with hernias and whose parents are farmers.

The Ewing’s sarcoma family of tumours continues to be the most severe malignant bone diseases in children and accounts for more than one third of bone cancers in children. Treatment is painful, longterm, often disfiguring and effective for only up to 60% of cases. Its incidence is highest in adolescence, slightly more common in boys than girls and much more common in white children.

The QIMR project examined findings from other international and national studies and found conclusive data linking Ewing’s sarcoma and parents who have a history of farming and manual occupation. The research also found that children who had had either umbilical or inguinal hernias were at a greater risk of developing Ewing’s sarcoma.

“In our research, we found that umbilical hernias, in particular, were associated with an increased risk of Ewing’s sarcoma as were congenital (present at birth) hernias,” said Chief Investigator, Dr Patricia Valery.

It is believed that disruption of normal embryonic development of tissues by hormonal, environmental or genetic factors during pregnancy could account for a common origin of Ewing’s sarcoma family of tumours and hernias.

“More parents of children with Ewing’s sarcoma had worked on farms during conception or pregnancy compared to parents of children without the disease. It is highly possible that environmental exposures to chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides on farms during pregnancy could be causal factors for hernias and Ewing’s sarcoma in offspring,” said Dr Valery.

It has been shown that animals exposed to the agricultural chemical carbendazim developed umbilical hernia and skeletal malformations. Carbendazim is widely used in the USA and Australia as a fungicide.

It is unclear at what stage of embryonic development Ewing’s sarcoma family of tumours and hernias might be inter-related – however the genitofemoral nerve has been suggested in hernia development, suggesting a mechanism for a common pathway.

“Further investigation is warranted to examine potential chemical exposures acquired by parental farm work which may trigger disruption of genitofemoral-nerve development. If these triggers induce precancerous changes in cells that later develop into Ewing’s sarcoma, prevention may be possible.”