Prostate cancer among pesticide applicators: a meta-analysis

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2004 Nov;77(8):559-70. doi: 10.1007/s00420-004-0548-8. Epub 2004 Nov 18.


Objectives: To analyse data from peer-reviewed, case-referent and cohort studies, studying the occurrence of prostate cancer in pesticide applicators and in some other, related, occupational categories, in order to determine a possible relationship of cancer of the prostate with pesticide exposure; to calculate a meta-rate ratio and to compare it with the meta-rate ratios obtained in a previous meta-analysis performed over a shorter time (1995-2001) in a broader exposure category, including many pesticide-related agricultural and non-agricultural occupations.

Methods: Medline was searched for the years between 1966 and 2003, and relevant studies were identified from 1986 on. We conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies complying with the inclusion criteria in order to pool their relative risk (RR) estimates. Studies were summarised and assessed for homogeneity and publication bias.

Results: The meta-rate ratio, based on 22 estimates of RR, is 1.24 [95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.06-1.45]. This pooled risk estimate for the occupational categories selected is higher than the one previously calculated for farmers in general over a shorter period of publication. Substantial heterogeneity of rate ratios exists between the different studies. The major source of heterogeneity identified is geographic location. Increased meta-rate ratios are observed for studies derived from North America as well as from Europe, the meta-rate ratios from Europe being lower than those from North America. There is no obvious indication of publication bias.

Conclusion: The increased meta-rate ratio for prostate cancer in agricultural pesticide applications provides additional evidence for a possible relationship between pesticide exposure and prostate cancer. The homogeneity observed between the individual rate ratios, after we had regrouped the data according to geographic location, tends to increase the consistency of the association. However, the data available from the individual studies do not provide sufficient exposure information for firm conclusions to be drawn about pesticide exposure as the cause of prostate cancer, independently from other factors.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Pesticides