Glyphosate-based herbicides and cancer risk: a post-IARC decision review of potential mechanisms, policy and avenues of research

Carcinogenesis. 2018 Oct 8;39(10):1207-1215. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgy105.


Since its initial sales in the 1970s, the herbicide glyphosate attained widespread use in modern agriculture, becoming the most commercially successful and widely used herbicide of all time as of 2016. Despite a primary mechanism that targets a pathway absent from animal cells and regulatory studies showing safety margins orders of magnitude better than many other, more directly toxic herbicides, the safety status of glyphosate has recently been brought into question by a slow accumulation of studies suggesting more subtle health risks, especially when considered in combination with the surfactants it is usually applied with. Current, official views of respected international regulatory and health bodies remain divided on glyphosate's status as a human carcinogen, but the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer decision to reclassify the compound as Category 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) marked a sea change in the scientific community's consensus view. The goal of this review is to consider the state of science regarding glyphosate's potential as a human carcinogen and genotoxin, with particular focus on studies suggesting mechanisms that would go largely undetected in traditional toxicology studies, such as microbiome disruption and endocrine mimicry at very low concentrations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Glycine / adverse effects
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glyphosate
  • Herbicides / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Mutagens / adverse effects
  • Mutagens / analysis
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*


  • Carcinogens
  • Herbicides
  • Mutagens
  • Glycine