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Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Feb;121(2):269-75. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103942. Epub 2012 Oct 22.

In utero pesticide exposure and leukemia in Brazilian children < 2 years of age.

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Environment and Public Health Post-graduation Program, National School of Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.



An association between pesticide exposure and cancer has been suggested. Infant leukemia is a rare neoplasm and its association with maternal pesticide exposure has been poorly explored.


We investigated the association between pesticide exposure during pregnancy and leukemia in children < 2 years of age.


A hospital-based case-control study was carried out in 13 Brazilian states during 1999-2007. Mothers of 252 cases and those of 423 controls were interviewed. Information on pesticide exposures 3 months before pregnancy, throughout pregnancy, and during breastfeeding was obtained. Unconditional logistic regression was used to estimate adjusted odds ratios (aORs) for associations between pesticide exposures and leukemia.


Associations with ever use of pesticides during pregnancy were observed for acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL) (aOR = 2.10; 95% CI: 1.14, 3.86) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) (aOR = 5.01; 95% CI: 1.97, 12.7) in children 0-11 months of age, and with ALL (aOR = 1.88; 95% CI: 1.05, 5.23) at 12-23 months of age. According to reported maternal exposure to permethrin, higher risk estimates were verified for children 0-11 months of age (aOR = 2.47; 95% CI: 1.17, 5.25 for ALL; and aOR = 7.28; 95% CI: 2.60, 20.38 for AML). Maternal pesticide exposure related to agricultural activities showed an aOR of 5.25 (95% CI: 1.83, 15.08) for ALL, and an aOR of 7.56 (95% CI: 1.83, 31.23) for AML.


These results support the hypothesis that pesticide exposure during pregnancy may be involved in the etiology of acute leukemia in children < 2 years of age.

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