Children who are born to affluent families and who grow up in rural areas are at a higher risk of developing leukaemia and other childhood cancers, according to an important new study.
Research carried out by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) has revealed that the incidence of cancer is distributed unevenly throughout Great Britain.
Professor Alex Elliot, chairman of Comare, commented: "The results provide strong evidence that the incidence rates of some forms of childhood cancer are related to region within a country and to socio-demographic factors such as socioeconomic status and population density."
Professor Elliot said that there was a strong relationship between leukaemia rates and socioeconomic status, with those areas of high socioeconomic status exhibiting higher rates of leukaemia.
"This, of course, is in contrast to most childhood illnesses where lower socioeconomic status is associated with higher incidence rates," he added.
The researchers believe that the variety of incidence rates is too great to be caused by "simple random or chance variations" and suggest that children from affluent, rural backgrounds might be at greater risk because of the lack of contact with common infections found in inner-city environments.
While urban children may develop immunity to certain viruses, a virus travelling from an urban to a rural population might encounter decreased resistance and therefore be able to cause genetic damage.
The study found no significant increase in cancer rates among children living close to nuclear power generation sites.