Background: Cancer risk among women engaged in farming has been poorly investigated. This group of female workers is of particular interest, however, since they may experience exposure to several potential agricultural hazards.
Methods: A hospital-based case-control study was conducted in five Italian rural areas to examine the association between cancer and farming among women. The areas selected were located in three different regions (i.e., Piedmont, Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna). The following cancer sites were selected for the study: stomach, colon, rectum, lung, skin melanoma, skin non-melanoma, breast, cervix and corpus uteri, ovary, bladder, kidney. Cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma were also included. Altogether, 1,044 newly diagnosed cases aged 20-75 years were ascertained from hospital records from March 1990 to September 1992, and for 945 of them detailed information was collected by a standard questionnaire. The analyses of data were performed comparing each case series to a reference group drawn from among the other sites. Unconditional logistic regression models were used in the statistical analyses.
Results: Statistically significant increased risks in association with farming were estimated for skin melanoma (OR 2.7, 95% CI 1.2-5.8) and bladder cancer (OR 2.7, 95% CI 1.2-6.1). Lung cancer was also found increased but not at a statistically significant level (OR 1.7, 95% CI 0.7-4.4). An OR lower than unity was observed for postmenopausal breast cancer (OR 0.4, 95% CI 0.3-0.7).
Conclusions: The present study suggests that women in farming might experience increased risk of cancers, not usually found in excess among male farmers, as well as a protective effect for postmenopausal breast cancer. The role of different patterns of exposure or gender specific responses should be considered in further studies.