Herbicides and cancer

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1992 Dec 16;84(24):1866-74. doi: 10.1093/jnci/84.24.1866.


Herbicides are a heterogeneous class of chemicals used in agriculture, forestry, and urban settings to kill weeds, shrubs, and broad-leaved trees. The role of herbicides in the etiology of cancer is controversial. Potential studies for review were identified through a MEDLINE search and from a check of references in related review articles. This review of the literature shows reasonable evidence suggesting that occupational exposure to phenoxy herbicides results in increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Several studies have noted large increases in risk of soft-tissue sarcomas with phenoxy herbicide exposure. In contrast, others have failed to observe increased risks, and evidence of an exposure-risk relationship is lacking. Although there have been too few appropriate studies for adequate assessment of risk of cancer at other sites, some findings have linked herbicide exposure with cancers of the colon, lung, nose, prostate, and ovary as well as to leukemia and multiple myeloma. Future studies must better identify and quantify the nature of herbicide exposures. In the interim, it seems only prudent to monitor and promote safety practices among persons occupationally exposed to phenoxy herbicides, particularly farmers and professional sprayers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Herbicides / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Herbicides