Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the immune system. It happens when the body pumps out an inordinate amount of abnormal white blood cells called lymphocytes. Over time, these cancerous lymphocytes crowd out the healthy white blood cells.
While certain infections, bacteria, medications, and even increased age are well known risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there are a new crop of culprits that have researchers concerned: one is exposure to glyphosate, a common ingredient in weed killer.
Glyphosate is a key ingredient in herbicides used by farmers and homeowners alike. Until recently, the general consensus was that products containing glyphosate were safe for humans to use. Emerging research suggests, however, that there may be an association between weed killer use and different types of cancer.
Several studies report a link between glyphosate exposure and damage to the DNA in human cells. A subset of these studies show an association between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other blood cell-related cancers.
While a number of popular weed-killing brands use glyphosate in their formulations, Roundup weed killer has received the most attention in recent years. In one case, a federal jury ordered Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, to pay $80 million to a man who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup for 30 years on his property (the amount was later lowered to $25 million).
High payout lawsuits have certainly shined a light on a potential link between glyphosate-containing products and cancers of different varieties, but it’s important to remember that association does not mean cause.
“There hasn’t been a study that has conclusively proved a causal link between Roundup and lymphoma, although it does look like Roundup probably increases lymphoma risk,” says Dr. Catherine Diefenbach, a hematologist/oncologist at NYU Langone Health. “Instead, we need to understand why there’s a higher number of lymphoma cases among people who use Roundup.”
Whether or not glyphosate causes cancer, the chemical does appear on California’s list of cancer-causing agents. Some health authorities, including the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, call it a “probable human carcinogen.”
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in the United States, according to The American Cancer Society. Your odds of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma over the course of your lifetime depends on a number of risk factors, including whether or not you frequently use weed killer.
“But I don’t think just because you used Roundup means you are going to get lymphoma,” Dr. Diefenbach says. “Most of the lymphomas that have been associated with Roundup appear to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so there’s not a clear Hodgkin lymphoma risk associated with using Roundup.”
It’s also important to note that glyphosate isn’t only in weed killer. It’s also in our food, water, and in the air that is all around us. Chances are good that every American has been exposed to some degree of glyphosate. If you’re concerned about your exposure because you frequently work with weedkiller, contact your doctor — and watch for these symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
Report symptoms like these to your doctor. And, let your doctor know if you have any known non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors, such as chemical exposure, infections, or a family history.
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