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Systematic Review

Vol. 12 No. 1 (2009)

Does Exposure to Agricultural Chemicals Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer among Farmers?

October 25, 2020


Several studies suggest that farmers may be at increased risk of prostate cancer. The present analysis, based on a large population-based case-control study conducted among men in the Montreal area in the early 1980’s, aim at identifying occupational chemicals which may be responsible for such increases. The original study enrolled 449 prostate cancer cases, nearly 4,000 patients with other cancers, as well as 533 population controls. Subjects were interviewed about their occupation histories, and a team of industrial hygienists assigned their past exposures using a checklist of some 300 chemicals. The present analysis was restricted to a study base of men who had worked as farmers earlier in their lives. There were a total of 49 men with prostate cancers, 127 with other cancers and 56 population controls. We created a pool of 183 controls combining the patients with cancers at sites other than the prostate and the population controls. We then estimated the odds ratio for prostate cancer associated with exposure to each of 10 agricultural chemicals, i.e., pesticides, arsenic compounds, acetic acid, gasoline engine emissions, diesel engine emissions, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum, lubricating oils and greases, alkanes with ≥18 carbons, solvents, and mononuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. Based on a model adjusting for age, ethnicity, education, and respondent status, there was evidence of a two-fold excess risk of prostate cancer among farmers with substantial exposure to pesticides [odds ratio (OR)=2.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1–5.1], as compared to unexposed farmers. There was some suggestion, based on few subjects, of increased risks among farmers ever exposed to diesel engine emissions (OR=5.7, 95% CI 1.2–26.5). The results for pesticides are particularly noteworthy in the light of findings from previous studies. Suggestions of trends for elevated risks were noted with other agricultural chemicals, but these are largely novel and need further confirmation in larger samples.


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