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Home News and Update Year 2011 Naphthalene Triggers Rare Cancer in Minor

Naphthalene Triggers Rare Cancer in Minor

Times of India
05 March 2011
By Prithvijit Mitra
Kolkata, India

On Cure Path
As a little girl, she would often sneak into her mother’s bedroom, silently open the cupboard and smuggle out a few mothballs. She loved smelling the insect repellents and would sniff them regularly till her parents came to know about her secret addiction. She was barred from doing it and denied access to the cupboard. But it was too late. Naphthalene vapour had entered the 14-yearold Dum Dum resident’s bloodstream and made its way into the urinary bladder, leading to cancer.

Doctors were taken aback when tests revealed that the girl had developed a cancerous tumour in her bladder. Urinary bladder carcinoma rarely afflicts young people. She is only the fourth such patient in the world aged less than 16. The girl was rushed to a hospital after she started bleeding profusely last month. Her urinary tract was left blocked by the tumour and she was in immense pain.

"I was shocked by the test reports. After talking to her parents, we came to know that the girl had the habit of sniffing naphthalene balls. It solved the puzzle. Inhaling naphthalene could be deadly for it introduces carcinogenic vapour into the system," said Ashish Mukhopadhyay, director of Netaji Subhas Cancer Research Institute where the minor was operated upon last week and declared out of danger.

The chances of a relapse are minimal since she is being put through a BCG vaccination course. The class X student will be able to return to school later this month. "She is still in a state of shock. Honestly, we had no idea that sniffing mothballs could lead to cancer. We have stopped using them at home," said a family member.

Experts said exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells. Humans, particularly children, are known to develop a condition known as hemolytic anaemia after ingesting mothballs or deodorant blocks containing naphthalene. The symptoms include fatigue, lack of appetite, restlessness, and pale skin. Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may cause confusion, nausea, vomitting, diarrhoea, tumour in the urinary bladder and jaundice.

Handling mothballs, according to doctors, could be risky as their vapour could enter the bloodstream through the skin. "Regular skin contact could lead to cancer in the lungs or urinary bladder," said Mukhopadhyay.

Studies on animals conducted by US Department of Health and Human Services concluded that naphthalene was reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. International Agency for Research on Cancer said naphthalene was possibly carcinogenic to humans as there was enough evidence that it caused cancer in animals.

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