Exposure to pesticides and risk of colorectal cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Environ Pollut. 2024 Mar 15:345:123530. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2024.123530. Epub 2024 Feb 8.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a widespread malignancy worldwide, and its relationship with pesticide exposure remains inconclusive. This study aims to elucidate the relationship between pesticide exposure and the risk of colon, rectal, or CRC, focusing on specific pesticide groups. We conducted an extensive literature search for peer-reviewed studies published up to March 31, 2023. Summary risk ratios (RR) and their corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using stratified random-effects meta-analyses, taking into account different types of exposure and outcomes, and various exposed populations and pesticide subgroups. This approach aimed to address the substantial heterogeneity observed across the literature. We also assessed heterogeneity and potential small-study effects to ensure the robustness of our findings. From the 50 studies included in this review, 33 contributed to the meta-analysis. Our results indicate a significant association between herbicide exposure and colon cancer in both lifetime-days (LDs) (RR = 1.20; 95% CI = 1.01-1.42) and intensity-weighted lifetime-days (IWLDs) (RR = 1.29, 95% CI = 1.12-1.49) exposure. Similarly, insecticide exposure was associated with an increased risk of colon cancer in IWLDs (RR = 1.32; 95% CI = 1.02-1.70) exposure, and rectal cancer in any versus never exposure (RR = 1.21; 95% CI = 1.07-1.36), IDs (RR = 1.86; 95% CI = 1.30-2.67) and IWLDs (RR = 1.70; 95% CI = 1.03-2.83) exposure. While these findings suggest significant associations of herbicide and insecticide exposure with colon and rectal cancer, respectively, further research is needed to explore the impact of other pesticide groups and deepen our understanding of pesticide exposure. These results have important implications for policymakers and regulators, underscoring the need for stricter supervision and regulation of pesticide use to mitigate CRC risk.

Keywords: Colon cancer; Colorectal cancer; Herbicides; Insecticides; Meta-analysis; Rectal cancer; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Neoplasms* / chemically induced
  • Herbicides* / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Insecticides*
  • Pesticides* / toxicity
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / chemically induced


  • Pesticides
  • Insecticides
  • Herbicides