Can environmental exposures cause childhood cancer?

Some evidence suggests that certain environmental exposures may cause certain childhood cancers. [10] Each environmental exposure suspected of causing cancer (tobacco smoke, pesticides, nonionizing radiation) will be discussed separately.

Tobacco smoke:
Several studies demonstrate that parents who smoke place their children at increased risk of childhood cancers. [38-42]

Not all studies support this relationship, but the weight of the evidence strongly supports it. [43]

Pesticides:
Several studies suggest that children exposed to pesticides in the home are at increased risk of certain childhood cancers such as leukemias, lymphomas, and neuroblastoma. [30-35] However, few of these studies could address which particular pesticide was linked with childhood cancer.

Several studies also suggest that children of parents occupationally exposed to pesticides have increased risk of various childhood cancers. [35-37]

Learn more on our Pesticides page

Nonionizing radiation:
Nonionizing radiation is a type of electromagnetic energy associated with electric power lines, cell phones, home appliances, and other items that use electricity. It is considered less harmful than ionizing radiation (such as X-rays). Ionizing radiation has enough energy to cause changes in the atoms of the body’s cells while nonionizing radiation is much less likely to produce these changes. The potential of nonionizing radiation to cause cancer is very controversial. Some studies suggest a link between nonionizing radiation and childhood cancer while others do not.

Several human studies suggest that exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines and television towers increase various types of childhood cancers, especially leukemia. [16-20]

However, other human studies do not support a link between electromagnetic radiation and childhood cancer. [21-25] Overall, the weight of the evidence seems to argue against this association.