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Malignant brain tumors rank second in both incidence and mortality by cancer in children, and they are the leading cause of cancer death in children. Relatively little is known about the etiology of childhood brain tumor (CBT). While there are several studies which link pesticide exposure to increased risk of CBT, findings have been inconsistent. We performed a meta-analysis on 15 published epidemiological studies to test that in utero exposure to pesticides may be involved in the development of brain cancer in children. Meta-analysis was performed using the general variance-based method and homogeneity was tested by means of the Q statistic. Summary relative risk (RR) estimates were calculated for childhood brain cancer from (1) paternal exposure to pesticides prior to conception, (2) both maternal and paternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy, (3) maternal exposure during pregnancy to: (a) agricultural and (b) non-agricultural activities, and (4) childhood exposure to: (a) agricultural and (b) nonagricultural activities up to date of diagnosis with CBT. The comparative toxicogenomics database (CTD) was used to identify gene-pesticide-CBT interactions.

Findings of meta-analyses revealed a significantly increased risk of CBT among children whose mothers had farm-related exposures during pregnancy (RR=1.48, 95% CI=1.18–1.84). A dose response was recognized when this risk estimate was compared to those for risk of CBT from maternal exposure to non-agricultural pesticides (e.g., home extermination, pest strips) during pregnancy (RR=1.36, 1.10–1.68), and risk of CBT among children exposed to agricultural activities (RR=1.32, 1.04–1.67). Three studies combined for the paternal exposure to pesticides during preconception produced a calculated summary risk estimate of odds ratio (OR) = 2.29 (95% CI: 1.39–3.78). Meta-analysis of five studies of paternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy produced a final calculated summary risk estimate of OR = 1.63 (95% CI: 1.16–2.31). The search of the CTD databases revealed association between herbicide and astrocytoma and more than 300 genes are altered by exposure to herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or pesticides. In summary, comparing results from our categories of exposure, preconception and pregnancy exposure estimates were slightly higher than childhood exposure estimates, paternal exposures produced slightly higher risk estimates compared to maternal exposures, agricultural exposures produced slightly higher risk estimates compared to non-agricultural exposures and CTD search revealed potential genes-pesticides-astrocytoma interactions. Based on the collective results of these meta-analyses, it appears that pesticide exposure may increase risk of CBT, with preconception and prenatal exposures being especially important factors in increasing risk of its development. Interestingly, paternal exposure may be as important, if not more important than maternal exposures, particularly during the preconception period. Whether this is a result of paternal exposures being more prevalent than maternal exposures or the consequence of a biological process, is a question that deserves further attention in future investigations of CBT etiology.


Published in final edited form as: JP J Biostat. 2014 November ; 11(2): 89–101







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