Most common childhood cancer 'partly caused by lack of infection'
Clean modern homes, antiseptic wipes and the understandable desire to protect small babies against any infection are all part of the cause of the most common form of childhood cancer, a leading expert has concluded after more than 30 years of research.
Childhood acute leukaemia, says the highly respected Prof Mel Greaves, is nothing to do with power lines or nuclear fuel reprocessing stations. Nor is it to do with hot dogs and hamburgers or the Vatican radio mast, as have also been suggested. After the best part of a century of speculation, some of it with little basis in science, Greaves – who recently won the Royal Society’s prestigious Royal Medal – says the cancer is caused by a combination of genetic mutations and a lack of childhood infection.
There is a similar story at work in type 1 diabetes, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple sclerosis and allergies, he says.
ALL rates are low or non-existent in the poorest countries, where families have lots of children and cross-infection is common. One exception is Costa Rica, which has invested heavily in medical schools and its health system, and brought down family sizes from 7.2 children on average to 2.3. They now have significant levels of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, type 1 diabetes and ALL.