Use of Dieselized Farm Equipment and Incident Lung Cancer: Findings from the Agricultural Health Study Cohort

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 May;124(5):611-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409238. Epub 2015 Oct 9.


Background: Diesel exhaust is a known lung carcinogen. Farmers use a variety of dieselized equipment and thus may be at increased risk of lung cancer, but farm exposures such as endotoxins may also be protective for lung cancer.

Objectives: We evaluated the relative risk of incident lung cancer, including histological subtype, from enrollment (1993-1997) to 2010-2011 in relation to farm equipment use in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective cohort study of pesticide applicators and spouses in Iowa and North Carolina, USA.

Methods: Farm equipment use was reported by 21,273 farmers and 29,840 spouses. Rate ratios (RRs) were estimated separately for farmers and spouses with Poisson regression models adjusted for smoking and other confounders. We conducted stratified analyses by exposure to animals or stored grain, a surrogate for endotoxin exposure.

Results: Daily diesel tractor use (vs. no use) was positively associated with lung cancer in farmers (RR = 1.48; 95% CI: 0.87, 2.50; 35 exposed, 32 unexposed cases), particularly adenocarcinoma (RR = 3.39; 95% CI: 1.23, 9.33; 12 exposed, 7 unexposed cases). The association of adenocarcinoma with daily (vs. low/no) use of diesel tractors was stronger for farmers with no animal or stored grain exposures (RR = 6.23; 95% CI: 2.25, 17.25; 5 exposed, 18 unexposed cases) than among farmers with these exposures (RR = 1.19; 95% CI: 0.51, 2.79; 7 exposed, 27 unexposed cases) (p-interaction = 0.05).

Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence of an increased risk of lung adenocarcinoma among daily drivers of diesel tractors and suggests that exposure to endotoxins may modify the impact of diesel exposure on lung cancer risk. Confirmation of these findings with more exposed cases and more detailed exposure information is warranted.

Citation: Tual S, Silverman DT, Koutros S, Blair A, Sandler DP, Lebailly P, Andreotti G, Hoppin JA, Beane Freeman LE. 2016. Use of dieselized farm equipment and incident lung cancer: findings from the Agricultural Health Study Cohort. Environ Health Perspect 124:611-618;

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data*
  • Farmers
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vehicle Emissions*


  • Vehicle Emissions