Cancer incidence among pesticide applicators exposed to metolachlor in the Agricultural Health Study

Int J Cancer. 2006 Jun 15;118(12):3118-23. doi: 10.1002/ijc.21758.


Metolachlor is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. We evaluated the incidence of cancer among pesticide applicators exposed to metolachlor in the Agricultural Health Study, a prospective cohort study of licensed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina. A total of 50,193 pesticide applicators were included. Detailed information on pesticide exposure and lifestyle factors was obtained from self-administered enrollment questionnaires completed between 1993 and 1997; average length of follow-up was 7.33 years. Two metolachlor exposure metrics were used : (i) lifetime days personally mixed or applied metolachlor and (ii) intensity-weighted lifetime days (lifetime days x an intensity level). Poisson regression analysis was used to estimate relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI) for cancer subtypes by tertiles of metolachlor exposure. No clear risk for any cancer subtype was found for exposure to metolachlor. A significantly decreased RR was found for prostate cancer in the highest category of lifetime days exposure (RR = 0.59; 95%CI, 0.39-0.89) and in the second highest category of intensity-weighted lifetime days exposure (RR = 0.66; 95%CI, 0.45-0.97); however, the test for trend was not significant for either exposure metric. A nonsignificantly increased risk was found for lung cancer with lifetime days exposure in the highest category (RR = 2.37; 95%CI, 0.97-5.82, p-trend = 0.03) but not with intensity-weighted lifetime days. Given the widespread use of metolachlor and the frequent detection of metolachlor in both surface and ground water, future analyses of the AHS will allow further examination of long-term health effects, including lung cancer and the less common cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetamides / adverse effects*
  • Adult
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Herbicides / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Life Style
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Prospective Studies
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Acetamides
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • metolachlor