Children who live in close proximity to a motorway have a higher risk of contracting leukaemia, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of Bern and published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers from the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM) looked for relationships between proximity to a Swiss motorway and the number of cancer cases registered in children between 1985 and 2008. They found that children growing up within 100 metres of a motorway had a 47% to 57% higher risk of contracting leukaemia.
Despite a reduction in air pollution due to stricter standards since the 1990s, there are large differences depending on how far from the motorway you are, according to study author Ben Spycher.
“In the immediate vicinity of busy roads such as motorways, the concentrations of pollutants in the air are still strong,” he said.
The causes of childhood cancer are, to a great extent, unknown. One potential cause is genetic predisposition. Another is environmental factors such as air pollution. The ISPM study corroborated the assumption that traffic exhaust gases increase the risk of leukaemia in children.
Cancer is diagnosed annually in more than 200 children under the age of 16 in Switzerland and represents the second highest cause of death after accidents. However, its occurrence remains relatively rare. The most frequently diagnosed forms of childhood cancer are leukaemia and brain tumours.
swissinfo.ch and agencies