Parental exposure to environmental toxins and risk of childhood cancer in their offspring - pilot study
Dr John Attia, Professor Rodney Scott (John Hunter Hospital), Professor John Aitken (University of Newcastle), Dr Frank Alvaro (John Hunter Hospital - Paediatric Oncology), Dr Bruce Armstrong (NSW Cancer Council), Dr Lin Fritschi (University of Western Australia), Dr Patrick FitzGerald, Dr Syed Zakaria (PhD student)
The hypothesis that parental exposures, mainly paternal, to occupational and environmental toxins contribute to childhood cancer has been investigated for the last 25 years. Pesticides, paints, solvents, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons have all been inconsistently implicated, especially in the development of leukaemia and brain cancers. The possible biological mechanism has been implicitly assumed to be germline (sperm) mutations, which are transmitted to the children. The advent of molecular epidemiology is now enabling the explicit exploration of this hypothesis.
This pilot study is investigating how exposure to environmental toxins and the resulting gene mutations influence the occurrence of childhood cancers. We are in the process of recruiting all children in the Hunter Valley with a diagnosis of cancer (and their families) in the last five years. By comparing them to children without cancer (and their families) we are hoping to answer four questions:
Does the exposure of fathers to pollutants, such as paints, solvents, pesticides and metals cause mutations in sperm? If so, do these genetic changes in sperm increase the chance of cancer in the children? Do variations in how the body handles toxins and repairs DNA influence the number of mutations and the chance of cancer in the children? Does nutritional status also influence this risk?
Analysis is currently under way.