A case-control study of brain gliomas and occupational exposure to chemical carcinogens: the risk to farmers

Am J Epidemiol. 1988 Oct;128(4):778-85. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a115031.


During 1983 and 1984, 240 newly diagnosed cases of brain glioma and 742 controls (465 non-glioma nervous system tumors and 277 patients with other neurologic diseases) were recruited and interviewed in the neurologic and neurosurgical departments of two hospitals in Milan, Italy. The occupational histories of cases and controls were compared, and relative risk estimates, adjusted for sex, age, residence, and socioeconomic status, were computed using the Mantel-Haenszel method. A statistically significant risk increase was found for farmers (relative risk (RR) = 1.6, p = 0.0025). This risk increase was attributable to those farmers who reported the use of chemicals (insecticides or fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers). Among the three groups of investigated agrochemicals, only the use of insecticides or fungicides was associated with a significant increase in relative risk (RR = 2.0, p = 0.006). Many farmers exposed to fungicides reported the use of commercial compounds of copper sulfate. Some of these compounds contain methyl urea, which has a specific carcinogenic effect on the nervous system in animals. These data suggest that the occupational exposure of farmers to agrochemicals might be responsible for the observed excess risk of brain glioma in farmers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fungicides, Industrial / adverse effects
  • Glioma / chemically induced*
  • Glioma / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / adverse effects
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Fungicides, Industrial
  • Insecticides
  • Pesticides