Farming, Pesticides, and Brain Cancer: A 20-Year Updated Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Sep 5;13(17):4477. doi: 10.3390/cancers13174477.


Twenty additional years of epidemiologic literature have become available since the publication of two meta-analyses on farming and brain cancer in 1998. The current systematic literature review and meta-analysis extends previous research and harmonizes findings. A random effects model was used to calculate meta-effect estimates from 52 studies (51 articles or reports), including 11 additional studies since 1998. Forty of the 52 studies reported positive associations between farming and brain cancer with effect estimates ranging from 1.03 to 6.53. The overall meta-risk estimate was 1.13 (95% CI = 1.06, 1.21), suggesting that farming is associated with a 13% increase in risk of brain cancer morbidity or mortality. Farming among white populations was associated with a higher risk of brain cancer than among non-white populations. Livestock farming (meta-RR = 1.34; 95% CI = 1.18, 1.53) was associated with a greater risk compared with crop farming (meta-RR = 1.13; 95% CI = 0.97, 1.30). Farmers with documented exposure to pesticides had greater than a 20% elevated risk of brain cancer. Despite heterogeneity among studies, we conclude that the synthesis of evidence from 40 years of epidemiologic literature supports an association between brain cancer and farming with its potential for exposure to chemical pesticides.

Keywords: agriculture; brain cancer; evidence synthesis; farming; glioma; meta-analysis; pesticides; systematic literature review.

Publication types

  • Review