Agricultural pesticide use and pancreatic cancer risk in the Agricultural Health Study Cohort

Int J Cancer. 2009 May 15;124(10):2495-500. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24185.


Pancreatic cancer is a rapidly fatal disease that has been linked with pesticide use. Previous studies have reported excess risks of pancreatic cancer with organochlorines such as DDT, however, many other commonly used pesticides have not been examined. To further examine the potential associations between the use of a number of pesticides and pancreatic cancer, we conducted a case-control analysis in the Agricultural Health Study, one of the largest prospective cohorts with over 89,000 participants including pesticide applicators and their spouses in Iowa and North Carolina. This analysis included 93 incident pancreatic cancer cases (64 applicators, 29 spouses) and 82,503 cancer-free controls who completed an enrollment questionnaire providing detailed pesticide use, demographic and lifestyle information. Ever use of 24 pesticides and intensity-weighted lifetime days [(lifetime exposure days) x (exposure intensity score)] of 13 pesticides was assessed. Risk estimates were calculated using unconditional logistic regression controlling for age, smoking, and diabetes. Among pesticide applicators, 2 herbicides (EPTC and pendimethalin) of the 13 pesticides examined for intensity-weighted lifetime use showed a statistically significant exposure-response association with pancreatic cancer. Applicators in the top half of lifetime pendimethalin use had a 3.0-fold (95% CI 1.3-7.2, p-trend = 0.01) risk compared with never users, and those in the top half of lifetime EPTC use had a 2.56-fold (95% CI = 1.1-5.4, p-trend = 0.01) risk compared with never users. Organochlorines were not associated with an excess risk of pancreatic cancer in this study. These findings suggest that herbicides, particularly pendimethalin and EPTC, may be associated with pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Agriculture*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Carcinogens
  • Pesticides