The Risks of Rural Life

Blood cancer risks higher in people who grew up near livestock farms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It seems so idyllic - the farm life does. Yet new research finds that children who grew up on a livestock farm are at greater risk for developing certain types of cancer.

Scientists have found that people who lived on livestock farms as children appear to have higher risks of developing blood cancers as adults. The study finds those risks are three times higher among those who were raised on a poultry farm.

"Growing up on a livestock farm increases blood cancer risks."

This study supports previous findings that have shown the same increased risks. The theory is that exposure to pesticides or animal-related infections caused the increased risks. However, these studies had focused on adults, not on children.

Researchers analyzed more than 114,000 death certificates of New Zealand residents between the ages of 35-85 during the period from 1998-2003. Occupational information of the deceased along with that of at least one parent was gathered from 82 percent of the records.

Just over 3,000 deaths from blood cancers were recorded during the five-year study period.

Researchers found that the risks of having a blood cancer, including leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodkin's lymphoma, were higher among people who had grown up on livestock farms than those who had not. Here are the specific findings:

  • 22 percent overall higher risk for children who grew up on livestock farms
  • 3X greater risk if child grew up on a poultry farm
  • 20 percent lower risk if child grew up on a crop farm
  • 50 percent greater risk for adults who worked on a crop farm
  • 20 percent less risk among adults working on a livestock farm
  • 3X greater risk among adults who worked in beef cattle farming

Study authors caution that additional research is needed to pinpoint definitive cause and effect relationships. Yet these findings do suggest that farming exposure both in adulthood and childhood "play independent roles in the development of hematological cancers," they said.

Authors add that exposure to various types of virus may affect the immune system which would increase blood cancer risks later in life.

This research is published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 28, 2011
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012