Purpose: The purpose of the present paper is to review cohort studies that examined the occurrence of prostate cancer in pesticide manufacturing workers in order to undertake a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the risk as well as to assess the level of epidemiological evidence for each class of chemical compounds.
Methods: Following a systematic literature search, relative risk (RR) estimates for prostate cancer were extracted from 18 studies published between 1984 and 2004. All studies were summarised and evaluated for homogeneity and publication bias. As no significant heterogeneity was detected, combined RR estimators were calculated using a fixed effect model. Meta-analyses were performed both on the whole set of data and for each chemical class separately.
Results: The meta-rate ratio estimate for all studies was 1.28 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05-1.58]. After stratification by specific chemical class, consistent increases in the risk of prostate cancer were found in all groups but statistical significance was found only for accidental or non-accidental exposure to phenoxy herbicides contaminated with dioxins and furans. There was no obvious indication of publication bias.
Conclusion: The overall meta-analysis provides additional quantitative evidence consistent with prior reviews focusing on other groups exposed to pesticides (farmers, pesticide applicators). The results again point to occupational exposure to pesticides as a possible risk factor for prostate cancer but the question of causality remains unanswered. Epidemiological evidence did not allow identifying a specific pesticide or chemical class that would be responsible for the increased risk but the strongest evidence comes from workers exposed to phenoxy herbicides possibly in relation with dioxin and/or furan contamination.