Body mass index, agricultural pesticide use, and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study cohort

Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Nov;21(11):1759-75. doi: 10.1007/s10552-010-9603-9. Epub 2010 Aug 22.


Obesity is associated with increased risks of several cancers including colon and female breast. Pesticide use in agricultural populations has also been linked with higher risks of various cancers. However, the interaction between obesity and pesticide use on cancer risk has not been well studied. Using data from the Agricultural Health Study, we examined the association between body mass index (BMI) and the risk of cancer at 17 sites and the interaction between BMI and pesticide use. Pesticide applicators residing in Iowa and North Carolina and their spouses were enrolled between 1993 and 1997 and given a self-administered questionnaire to obtain pesticide use and other information. This analysis included 39,628 men and 28,319 women with height and weight data who were cancer-free at enrollment. Among these participants, 4,432 were diagnosed with cancer between enrollment and 2005 and 64% were overweight or obese. BMI (per 1 kg/m(2)) was positively associated with colon cancer in men (hazard ratio (HR) 1.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.02-1.09) and breast cancer in postmenopausal women (HR 1.03, 95% CI 1.01-1.06). In contrast, BMI was inversely associated with lung cancer in men, with a significant association in ever smokers (HR 0.92, 95% CI 0.88-0.97) and a null association in never smokers. The positive association between BMI and colon cancer in men was significant in those who ever used carbofuran (HR = 1.10, 95% CI 1.04-1.17; p-interaction = 0.04) or metolachlor (HR = 1.09, 95% CI 1.04-1.15; p-interaction = 0.02) but was null in non-users of these pesticides. Among male ever smokers, the inverse association between BMI and lung cancer was significant in non-users of carbofuran (HR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.82-0.92) but was null in users of carbofuran (p-interaction = 0.02). These findings suggest that certain pesticides may modify the effects of BMI on the risks of colon and lung cancers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colonic Neoplasms / complications
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Pesticides