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Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 1996 Oct;10(4):411-7.

Isolation, car ownership, and small area variation in incidence of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh Medical School, UK.


To determine whether increased rates of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) which had been reported in isolated areas could be attributed to higher proportions of households owning cars, ecological analysis was performed with electoral wards as area units. Previous data were re-analysed using the proportion of households having no car, taken from the 1981 census of England and Wales, as an additional explanatory factor. A specialist registry of haematopoietic malignancies covering one-third of England and Wales (3270 electoral wards) recorded 438 cases of ALL in children diagnosed 1984-89, including 304 in the childhood peak (at ages 1-7 years). Relative risks were derived by Poisson regression of total childhood ALL and at ages 1-7 years for groups of electoral wards classified by isolation and car ownership. Multivariable analyses included adjustment for socio-economic status. No evidence of increased risk of childhood ALL in areas where more households own cars was found. ALL at ages 1-7 years was inversely associated with car ownership (risk in wards with least cars relative to those with most cars = 2.28, 95% CI: 1.12-4.64). The associations with geographic isolation persisted after allowing for car ownership (risks for ALL in young children in isolated relative to built-up areas = 2.19, 95% CI: 1.44-3.33). Levels of car ownership cannot explain the increased rates of childhood ALL which have been observed in isolated areas. No support has been found for a hypothesis relating these excesses to benzene exposure of children transported in cars. The previous explanation for the small area variation of childhood ALL in terms of geographical isolation and interpretation in terms of exposure to common infections continues to be justified.

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