Researchers found a link between blood cancer risk and growing up on a livestock farm.

Growing up on a livestock farm seems to be linked to an increased risk of developing blood cancers as an adult, indicates research published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In a public release by the British Medical Journal, researchers warned that the risk of developing a blood cancer was three times as high for those who had grown up on a poultry farm, according to their study.

The link to blood cancers has been examined before, but mostly by looking at adult farmers, they said.

Pesticides, chemicals and infections may be to blame

Possible explanations have focused on exposure to pesticides or infections as a result of contact with farm animals.

Most of this research has focused on adults, with little information on potential early life factors.

The authors base their findings on an analysis of more than 114,000 death certification records from 1998 to 2003 for those aged between 35 and 85 and resident in New Zealand.

Information regarding the deceased’s usual job and that of at least one of the parents was extracted for 82% (94,054) of the records.

During the study period, just over 3,000 deaths were attributed to blood cancers, and growing up on a livestock farm was associated with a higher risk of developing such a cancer.

This association was not apparent for those who had grown up on arable/crop farms, although working on one of these farms as an adult was associated with a higher risk.

Poultry farms associated with greatest risks

Poultry farms conferred the greatest risk, with those who had grown up in this environment three times as likely to develop a blood cancer as those who had not.

The authors caution that further studies will be needed before a definitive cause and effect can be established, but they say that their study “suggests that farming exposures in adulthood and childhood play independent roles in the development of haematological cancers.”

They go on to say that exposure to particular types of virus in childhood may alter the immune system response, so increasing the risk of blood cancer in later life.

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