International Commission for Protection against Environmental Mutagens and Carcinogens. ICPEMC working paper 5/1: Perspectives in mutation epidemiology. 1. Incidence and prevalence of genetic disease (excluding chromosomal aberrations) in human populations.
Detailed knowledge of the birth frequency or the cumulative incidence over all ages of genetic diseases in human populations is a prerequisite for assessing the magnitude of possible genetic hazards caused by environmental mutagens. However, both theoretical and practical difficulties are involved in precisely measuring the total frequency of these diseases. Two sets of data from large-scale population studies, one from Northern Ireland and the other from British Columbia, are compared with each other and with the results from ad hoc surveys for individual monogenic disorders. With due allowance for differences in approach, examination indicates that the data from the large-scale population studies are inadequate. However, it could provide a crude estimate of the total frequency of genetic diseases and a fairly reliable estimate of the individual frequency of certain genetic disorders with early onset that are familiar and readily diagnosed. In addition to environmental mutagens, there are a number of factors associated with current human activity that may change the incidence of genetic diseases. In order to monitor the human population for environmental mutagens, the change in frequency of sporadic cases of those genetic diseases that arose from fresh mutation and that can be easily detected as early as possible should be followed closely. The mechanism of data collection currently being employed in some countries for childhood cancers, certain congenital malformations, and inborn errors of metabolism could be extended to include the so-called sentinel phenotypes. The rationale and feasibility of using retinoblastoma and Wilms' tumor (nephroblastoma) as examples of such population monitoring are described.