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Leukaemia clusters in childhood: geographical analysis in Britain.
  1. E G Knox

    Abstract

    STUDY OBJECTIVE--To validate previously demonstrated spatial clustering of childhood leukaemias by showing relative proximities of selected map features to cluster locations, compared with control locations. If clusters are real, then they are likely to be close to a determining hazard. DESIGN--Cluster postcode loci and partially matched control postcodes were compared in terms of distances to railways, main roads, churches, surface water, woodland areas, and railside industrial installations. Further supporting comparisons between non-clustered cases and random postcode controls with those map features representable as single grid points were made. SETTING--England, Wales, and Scotland 1966-83. SUBJECTS--Grid referenced registrations of 9406 childhood leukaemias and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, including 264 pairs (or more) separated by < 150 m, and grid references of random postcodes in equal numbers. MAIN RESULTS--The 264 clusters showed relative proximities (or the inverse) to several map features, of which the most powerful was an association with railways. The non-railway associations seemed to be statistically indirect. Some railside industrial installations, identified from a railway atlas, also showed relative proximities to leukaemia clusters, as well as to non-clustered cases, but did not "explain" the railway effect. These installations, with seemingly independent geographical associations, included oil refineries, petrochemical plants, oil storage and oil distribution depots, power stations, and steelworks. CONCLUSIONS--The previously shown childhood leukaemia clusters are confirmed to be non-random through their systematic associations with certain map features when compared with the control locations. The common patterns of close association of clustered and non-clustered cases imply a common aetiological component arising from a common environmental hazard--namely the use of fossil fuels, especially petroleum.

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