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Avoidable Exposures: Patients

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LINDANE, a lice treatment that causes cancer

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Q. What is lindane?

A. Lindane (hexachlorocyclohexane) is a man-made organochlorine pesticide used for agricultural purposes and as a widely prescribed topical treatment for lice and scabies. Previously marketed under the brandname, Kwell®, lindane is available in generic form, as well as the brand name products including: Bio-Well, GBH, G-well, Kildane, Kwildane, Scabene, and Thionex. Lindane is a prescription strength medication, available in lotion (1% lindane), cream (1%) and shampoo (1 %).

Q. Does lindane cause cancer?

A. Lindane has been shown to be a human carcinogen. Recent case control studies report high rates of childhood brain cancer treated with lindane shampoo.1 These findings are supported by several reports of six-fold increases non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers exposed to lindane,2 Evidence of carcinogenicity is confirmed by the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Q. Does lindane cause any other health problems?

A. Lindane is known hemotoxin-blood poison. In many case reports, lindane exposure from recommended dosages has resulted in blood diseases such as aplastic anemia.3 Aplastic anemia, which has a high fatality rate, is a precursor to leukemia.

Lindane is also a neurotoxin - nerve poison. In many cases, treatment with lindane shampoos have resulted in vomiting, seizures, brain damage, and comas, Adverse effects have resulted from recommended dosages of this product.

Q. Who is most at risk from exposure to lindane?

A. Children under the age of seven, children who were born premature, and pregnant women are the most at risk for immediate adverse effects from lindane exposure. Lindane is readily absorbed through the skin and can immediately cause central nervous system damage. It has also been shown to pass through the placenta, creating a serious risk for expectant mothers.
Absorption of lindane is increased when applied with warm water or followed by oil-based hair care products

Q. Is lindane regulated by the government?

A.The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all pharmaceutical products, lindane included. To date, the FDA has taken very little action to inform patients of the long term effects of exposure to lindane. The Environmental Protection Agency has severly restricted the use of lindane as an agricultural pesticide due to lindane's adverse health effects.

Q. Are there safer alternatives?

A. All commercial lice and scabies treatments are pesticidal and should be used with extreme caution. For lice treament, pyrethrins with piperonyl butoxide are not carcinogenic and generally result in fewer adverse effects than lindane products. Thorough treatment includes the removal of all nits and lice by picking, combing and clipping hair. Crotamiton has been recommended as a safer treatment for scabies.


  • Avoid all lice and scabies treatments that contain lindane.
  • Contact your school or your child's school and urge them to warn parents about the dangers of recommending lindane as a treatment for lice.
  • Write to the FDA and encourage them to take lindane off the market as a treatment for lice and scabies.


Experts call for ban on Lindane shampoos

Petition to Ban Lindane


1. Davis JR, Brownson RC, Garcia R, Beniz BJ and Turner A. "Family pesticide use and childhood brain cancer." Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 24: 87-92, 1993.

2. Cantor KP, Blair A, Everett G, Gibson R, Burmeister LF, Brown LM, Schuman L and Dick FR. "Pesticides and other agricultural risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lyrnphoma among men in Iowa and Minnesota," Cancer Res. 52: 2447-2455, 1992.

3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Toxicological profile for alpha-, beta- gamma-, and delt-hexachlorocyclohexane (update)." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Pub. No. TP-93.09, May 1994.

4. Solomon LM, west DP and Fitzloff JF. " Lindane." Letter, Arch Dermatol 126: 248, 1990.


Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman

Cancer Prevention Coalition

2121 West Taylor Street, M/C 922
Chicago, IL 60612
Tel: 312-996-2297


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