Healthy living

Farm animals linked to blood cancer risk

farm animals Poultry farms pose greatest risk

Children who grow up on livestock farms are at an increased risk of developing a blood cancer later in life, a study has found.

Poultry farms carried the greatest risk, with those raised on one three times more likely to develop a blood cancer compared to those who had not.

Researchers at Massey University in New Zealand analysed the cause of death of 114,000 men and women between 1998 and 2003 who were resident in New Zealand. The researchers used death certificates to establish the occupations of the deceased and their parents.

More than 3,000 deaths were attributed to blood cancers such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The overall risk of developing a blood cancer was found to be 22 per cent higher for those who grew up on a livestock farm compared with those who had grown up elsewhere.

Growing up on poultry farm carried a three times higher risk of developing a blood cancer, but being raised on an arable farm conferred an almost 20 per cent lower risk.

However, working in crop farming as an adult increased the risk of a blood cancer by 50 per cent.

Working on a livestock farm as an adult also seemed to lessen the risk by 20 per cent, with the exception of beef cattle farming, where the risk was three times as high.

Previous studies suggested that farmers are at increased risk of blood cancers scientists said, but little research has looked at potential risk factors in early life.

The researcher suggested that exposure to particular types of viruses in childhood may affect the immune system's response, leading to an increased risk of a blood cancer later in life.

But they also cautioned that further studies will be needed before a definitive cause and effect can be established.

The study is published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

This article was published on Thu 28 July 2011

Image © Mikael Damkier -

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