Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers that arise in the
white blood cells. NHL is increasing rapidly in the U.S. and elsewhere
in the industrialized world. In the year 1950, 5.9 Americans per
100,000 were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In 1985, the
incidence (occurrence) rate of this disease had risen to 13.1 per
100,000. By 1991, the incidence rate had reached 15.1 per 100,000
and was still climbing.
Between 1973 and 1991, the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
increased at the rate of 3.3% per year, making it the third fastest-
growing cancer (after prostate cancer, growing at 3.9% per year, and
melanoma of the skin, also growing at 3.9% per year). In recent
years, AIDS patients have contributed to the increase in NHL, but a
steady rise in the incidence of this disease was apparent long before
the AIDS epidemic. Together the known "risk factors" for NHL --
including immune-suppressing drugs, rare immune-system diseases, and
AIDS, explain only a small proportion of NHL cases.
About 50,900 new cases of NHL were diagnosed in the U.S. in 1995 and
about 22,700 deaths from NHL were reported that year. NHL is a
serious disease; half the people diagnosed with it are dead within five
years. The causes of NHL are not understood, but the following factors
have been implicated in many studies:
** Phenoxy herbicides, especially 2,4,5-T (the herbicide now banned in
the U.S.) and 2,4-D, the most popular chemical killer of dandelions and
crabgrass in lawns. More than a dozen studies now indicate that
exposure to these herbicides increases the likelihood of getting NHL.
** Viruses. The roles of viruses "appears to be minor," say Paul Scherr
and Nancy Mueller, who are experts in the viral causes of cancer.
However, the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) seems to be implicated in some
way in many cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, although the virus BY
ITSELF does not seem to cause the disease.[1,5]
** People with compromised immune systems and/or autoimmune diseases
have a substantially increased likelihood of getting NHL. This is a
consistent thread running throughout NHL research: the NHL family of
cancers tends to strike people whose immune systems are degraded for
one reason or another. This was first discovered among people who had
had organ transplants. The body's immune system naturally tries to
reject foreign organs. To allow a foreign kidney or liver to be
accepted, doctors devised medications to suppress the immune system. In
some instances, suppressing the immune system gave rise to NHL. Since
that time, researchers have documented many different ways in which
suppressed or malfunctioning immune systems allow NHL to develop.
In the authoritative reference book, CANCER EPIDEMIOLOGY AND
PREVENTION, Paul Scherr and Nancy Mueller conclude that there are
two clear threads visible in NHL research:
1. People whose immune systems are continually challenged (for example,
by medications or by autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis,
or by other factors) seem to lose control of latent cancer-causing
infections that may be caused by viruses such as the Epstein Barr
2. "Another group who appears to be at increased risk are individuals
with occupational exposures to chemicals," say Scherr and Mueller. They
continue, "There is mounting evidence implicating phenoxy herbicide
exposures, although the evidence is still not conclusive."
Scherr and Mueller do not say so, but there is also evidence that the
likelihood of NHL is increased by exposure to DDT, the well-known
organochlorine pesticide. In addition, recent evidence suggests that
another class of pesticides --the organophosphates such as malathion
and parathion --can cause NHL. Thus organochlorines,
organophosphates, and phenoxy herbicides are now all implicated in the
mushrooming problem of NHL.
Most recently, provocative new research indicates that PCBs, too, can
cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. From 1929 until just recently, PCBs were
used in electrical equipment as fire retardants. They were also used in
plastics, preservatives, varnishes, waxes, and carbonless carbon paper.
The connection between PCBs and NHL was first suggested in 1996 by the
Swedish researcher, Lennart Hardell. Hardell studied a small group
(28 individuals) with NHL and compared them to a control group of 17
surgical patients in the same Swedish hospital who did not have cancer.
Hardell took tissue samples from both groups and analyzed them for DDT
and its breakdown product, DDE; dioxins; hexachlorobenzene (HCB); and
PCBs. The tissue concentrations of both groups were the same for DDT,
DDE, HCB and dioxins. However, when it came to PCBs, the group with NHL
has significantly more PCBs in their tissues than the control group
This finding is biologically plausible because PCBs are known to
suppress the immune system of animals and humans. Hardell concluded his
research report in 1996 saying, "Immunological impairments have been
shown after exposure to PCBs. Since immunosuppression is an established
risk factor for NHL, our results are of interest in the etiology
[causation] of NHL but need to be confirmed in larger studies."
Now a larger study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has confirmed
Hardell's results. NCI researchers set out to explore whether
people with NHL had more than their fair share of DDT in their tissues.
They examined blood that had been taken from nearly 26,000 healthy
individuals in 1974 --a prospective study known as the Campaign Against
Cancer and Stroke [or CLUE I] being conducted at Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore. Within the large group, they identified 74
individuals who had eventually contracted NHL, and they matched them
against 147 controls who did not have NHL.
The NCI researchers did not find any connection between DDT and NHL
but, quite unexpectedly, they found a 4.5-fold increase in non-
Hodgkin's lymphomas among people who had 1050 parts per billion (ppb)
of PCBs in the fat globules of their blood, compared to people who had
only 250 to 650 ppb PCBs. The study found a clear dose-response
relationship between PCBs in the blood and the likelihood of having
Furthermore, this NCI study provided additional evidence of the role of
the Epstein Barr virus in NHL. Individually, PCBs and EBV each
increased the likelihood of NHL. However, together, the presence of
BOTH Epstein Barr virus AND elevated PCBs in individuals had a
synergistic effect, combining to produce a 22-fold increase in the
likelihood of NHL.
The solution to this problem has two parts. One part involves the use
of pesticides. Organochlorines, organophosphates, and phenoxy
herbicides all increase the dangers of NHL. In the case of these
chemicals, it is not too late to make sensible, precautionary
decisions. In our homes, our public buildings, our schools, and our
businesses we could avoid these products like the plague. Alternative
ways of dealing with pests are well-known. If pesticides are needed at
all, they are needed only in emergencies.
The second part of the problem is PCBs. Some 3.4 billion pounds of PCBs
were distributed into the environment --all of them manufactured or
licensed for manufacture by one corporation, Monsanto of St. Louis,
The whereabouts of 30 percent of all PCBs (roughly a billion pounds)
remains unknown. Another 30 percent resides in landfills, in storage,
or in the sediments of lakes, rivers, and estuaries. Some 30 percent to
60 percent remains in use. The characteristics of PCBs (their stability
and their solubility in fat) tend to move them into the oceans as time
passes. There they decimate wildlife. It is estimated that only one
percent of all PCBs have, so far, reached the oceans.
Without major efforts to locate, capture, and destroy the one-to-two
billion pounds of PCBs that are "out there," future generations will
continue to be poisoned by PCBs, at great social and individual cost.
Recently, we hear a drum beat of public relations from Monsanto,
claiming that it has turned over a new leaf and is now committed to
behaving in a civilized fashion. If this is so, Monsanto could
demonstrate its awakening by leading a global effort to locate and
destroy PCBs, cleansing the planet (to the extent possible) of this
brain-damaging, immune-suppressing, cancer-causing substance. Has
anyone seen a sign of serious intentions from St. Louis?
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Paul A. Scherr and Nancy E. Mueller, "Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas," in
David Schottenfeld and Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., editors, CANCER
EPIDEMIOLOGY AND PREVENTION (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996),
 Angela Harras and others, editors, CANCER RATES AND RISKS 4TH
EDITION [NIH Publication No. 96-691] (Bethesda, Maryland: National
Cancer Institute, 1996), pg. 17.
 C.L. Kosary and others, editors, SEER CANCER STATISTICS REVIEW
1973-1992 [National Institutes of Health Publication No. 96-2789]
(Bethesda, Md.: National Cancer Institute, 1995), Table I-1, pg. 15.
 For example, see Shelia Hoar Zahm and others, "A Case-Control Study
of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and the Herbicide 2,4,-Dichlorophenoxyacetic
Acid (2,4-D) in Eastern Nebraska," EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 1, No. 5
(September 1990), pgs. 349-356. And: Donald T. Wigle and others,
"Mortality Study of Canadian Male Farm Operators: Non-Hodgkin's
Lymphoma Mortality and Agricul-tural Practices in Saskatchewan,"
JOURNAL OF THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE Vol. 82, No. 7 (April 4,
1990), pgs. 575-582. The earliest report came from Lennart Hardell,
"Malignant lymphoma of histiocytic type and exposure to phenoxyacetic
acids or chlorophenols," LANCET Vol. 1, No. 8106 (January 6, 1979),
pgs. 55-56. Numerous other relevant studies are reviewed and cited in
Paul A. Scherr and Nancy E. Mueller, "Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas," in
David Schottenfeld and Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., editors, CANCER
EPIDEMIOLOGY AND PREVENTION (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996),
pgs. 920-945, and in Nathaniel Rothman and others, "A nested case-
control study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and serum organochlorine
residues," THE LANCET Vol. 350 (July 27, 1997), pgs. 240-244.
 Nancy E. Mueller and others, "Viruses," in David Schottenfeld and
Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., editors, CANCER EPIDEMIOLOGY AND PREVENTION
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pgs. 502-531.
 J.S. Woods and others, "Soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma in relation to phenoxyherbicide and chlorinated phenol
exposure in western Washington," JOURNAL OF THE NATIONAL CANCER
INSTITUTE Vol. 78, No. 5 (May 1987), pgs. 899-910. And: K.P. Cantor and
others, "Pesticides and other agricultural risk factors for non-
Hodgkin's lymphoma among men in Iowa and Minnesota," CANCER RESEARCH
Vol. 52, No. 9 (May 1992), pgs. 2447-2455. And: S.H. Zahm and others,
"The role of agricultural pesticide use in the development of non-
Hodgkin's lymphoma in women," ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 48,
No. 5 (September 1993), pgs. 353-358.
 Two studies are described briefly in John Wargo, OUR CHILDREN'S
TOXIC LEGACY (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1996), pg.
237, footnote 13. And see S.H. Zahm and others, "The role of
agricultural pesticide use in the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
in women," ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 48, No. 5 (September
1993), pgs. 353-358, which found a 4-fold increase in NHL among women
exposed to organophosphates.
 Lennart Hardell and others, "Higher concentrations of specific
polychlorinated biphenyl congeners in adipose tissue from non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma patients compared with controls without a malignant disease,"
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ONCOLOGY Vol. 9 (1996), pgs. 603-608.
 p < 0.06.
 Nathaniel Rothman and others, "A nested case-control study of non-
Hodgkin lymphoma and serum organochlorine residues," THE LANCET Vol.
350 (July 26, 1997), pgs. 240-244. And see J. Raloff, "PCBs linked to
rise in lymph cancers," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 152 (August 9, 1997), pg. 85.
 Carol W. Bason and Theo Colborn, "U.S. Application and
Distribution of Pesticides and Industrial Chemicals Capable of
Disrupting Endocrine and Immune Systems," in Theo Colborn and Coralie
Clement, editors, CHEMICALLY-INDUCED ALTERATIONS IN SEXUAL AND
FUNCTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: THE WILDLIFE/HUMAN CONNECTION [Advances in
Modern Environmental Toxicology Vol. XXI] (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
Scientific Publishing Co., 1992), pgs. 335-345.
4th NATIONAL GRASS-ROOTS CONVENTION OCTOBER 3-5
The CCHW Center for Health, Environment and Justice will sponsor its
fourth national grass-roots convention October 3-5 in Arlington, Va.,
just outside Washington, D.C.
CCHW conventions provide grass-roots activists a chance to celebrate
victories, create and renew friendships, develop strategies and learn
specific skills for use in local fights. This convention will be an
exceptionally good one.
The agenda includes numerous practical workshops on a broad range of
subjects like "advanced organizing" and SLAPP suits and how to do
In addition, there will be thought-provoking sessions on big-picture
topics, such as: sustainable economic development; coalition building;
expanding and diversifying the grass-roots movement; "It's the economy,
stupid;" and challenging corporate control of our society.
Personally, I wouldn't miss this convention for anything. --Peter
For more details, contact CCHW: P.O. Box 6806, Falls Church, VA 22040;
telephone (703) 237-2249.
Descriptor terms: cancer; carcinogens; non-hodgkin's lymphoma; nhl;
blood; lymph system; lymphomas; disease statistics; morbidity;
mortality; immune system; epstein barr virus; ebv; phenoxy herbicides;
viruses; infectious cancer-causing diseases; paul scherr; nancy
mueller; organ transplants; rheumatoid arthritis; ddt; dde;
organophosphates; malathion; parathion; pcbs; polychlorinated
biphenyls; lennart hardell; monsanto; hcb; hexachlorobenzene; 2,4,5-T;
2,4-D; synergism; precautionary principle; pesticides;