Scientists have found strong evidence that clusters of leukemia and other childhood cancers are linked to affluence and isolation.
'Comare', Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, that was set up to advise ministers on the effect of radiation exposure, had studied 32,000 cases of childhood cancer from 1969 to 1993. The researchers suggest that their findings could be related to an immune system response to infections that were more likely scarcely populated areas. But they also did mention that certain said cases of lymphomas showed the opposite trend, while some other childhood cancers, like tumors of the nervous system and soft-tissue sarcomas, were not localized or specific for any particular areas or population.
The scientists hope that this could probably explain as to why there was a high rate of leukemia in the Orkney and Western Islands. But the members of COMARE have said that the reasons behind clusters were not entirely clear. Professor Alex Elliott, the COMARE chairman, said, "This report raises more questions than it answers."
The report, that covered 32,000 cases of childhood cancer between 1969 and 1993, has shown that Orkney had a rate of leukemia, which was almost around 51.3 cases per million children, while the rate in Western Island was around of 62.8 per million, which was reportedly the highest in the UK. The committee also explained that the rates for other cancers in these areas were zero.
The findings of the report seemingly suggest that youngsters in the richer parts of the UK appeared more likely to develop many types of cancer. They also felt that the same was true for children in isolated rural areas. Scientists are of the opinion that the possible reason for this might be the 'dirty hypothesis' that suggests that children who are brought up in a very clean environment could develop weakened immune systems that would be probably less likely to deal with infections that may lead to cancer.
However, the report has also suggested that was also possible that the higher rates could be attributed to better diagnosis. A health spokeswoman from the Department of Health said, "This is an important finding and could lead to a better understanding of the causes of such cancers." While the Health Protection Agency were of the opinion that there was not yet any existing compromise for the clustering. They felt, "It may lend weight to the hypothesis that common infections may have a role in initiating or promoting the growth of cancer cells, assuming cancer is a multi-stage process. However, it is also possible that some local environmental factors could be involved."
On the other hand, it was also suggested that the 'urban' viruses funding their way into rural populations through migration might be an essential cause for the genetic damage that leads to cancer. Prof Elliott said COMARE was 'as convinced as any scientists can be' that nuclear sites were not responsible for higher rates of either leukaemia or lymphoma.