Cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study after 20 years of follow-up

Cancer Causes Control. 2019 Apr;30(4):311-322. doi: 10.1007/s10552-019-01140-y. Epub 2019 Feb 25.


Purpose: To evaluate cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a cohort of private pesticide applicators, their spouses, and commercial applicators, based on 12,420 cancers, adding 5,989 cancers, and 9 years of follow-up since last evaluation.

Methods: We calculated age, year, sex, and race-adjusted standardized incidence ratios (SIR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for cancer sites in the AHS relative to the general population.

Results: Overall AHS cancer incidence was lower than the general population (SIRprivate = 0.91, CI 0.89-0.93; SIRspouse = 0.89, CI 0.86-0.92; SIRcommercial = 0.83, CI 0.76-0.92), with notable deficits across applicators and spouses for oral cavity, pancreas, and lung cancers. Cancer excesses included prostate cancer, lip cancer, certain B-cell lymphomas (e.g., multiple myeloma), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), thyroid cancer, testicular cancer, and peritoneal cancer. The lung cancer deficit was strongest among applicators reporting potential exposure to endotoxin at study enrollment (tasks such as raising animals and handling stored grain).

Conclusions: Although an overall deficit in cancer was observed, there were notable exceptions, including newly observed excesses for AML, thyroid, testicular, and peritoneal cancers. Furthermore, endotoxin exposure may, in part, account for observed lung cancer incidence deficits. Cancer incidence patterns in the AHS suggest farm exposures' relevance to cancer etiology.

Keywords: Cancer; Endotoxin; Farming; Incidence; Pesticides.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pesticides*
  • Spouses / statistics & numerical data


  • Pesticides