Background: We evaluated the mortality pattern of male licensed pesticide users and their wives in central Italy.
Methods: The cohort consisted of 2978 male farmers licensed for buying and handling toxic pesticides during the period 1971-1973 and 2586 farmers' wives. The Standardized Mortality Ratio (SMRs) and their 95% Confidence Intervals (95% CI) were computed on the basis of regional death rates.
Results: We found a lower than expected overall and cancer mortality. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was increased among women (SMR = 2.29, 0.62-5.86) but not in male farmers (SMR = 0.90, 0.24-2.30), while both sexes were characterized by an increased risk of leukemia (men: SMR = 1.44, 0.69-2.64; women: SMR = 2.41, 1.04-4.76), mainly due to myeloid leukemia (men: SMR = 2.43, 0.98-5.00; women: SMR = 3.14, 1.02-7.33).
Conclusions: Men and women tend to share the same mortality profile. The statistically significant increase of leukemia with a threefold increased risk of the myeloid subtype only among women suggests that different pattern of exposure or biological differences between genders should be considered in evaluating health risks in agricultural settings.