Cancer is a devastating disease that is all too common in the United States and around the world. Some types of cancer are on the decline, but the rates of others, such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, childhood cancer, leukemia, and thyroid cancer are on the rise, according to the National Cancer Institute. Genetic and environmental factors each contribute to the causes of cancer with environmental factors increasingly suspected as contributing to the disease.
- The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the spraying and application of insecticides as a “probably carcinogenic to humans”, just below “carcinogenic to humans.”
- Pesticides can cause cancer a number of ways— by disrupting hormones, damaging DNA, inflaming tissues, and turning genes on or off.
- The types of cancer associated with pesticide exposure are many, including leukemia, neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, soft-tissue sarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and cancers of the brain, breast, pancreas, stomach, prostate, kidneys, colorectum, and testes.
A 2010 President’s Cancer Panel report “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” highlights the link between environmental contaminants and cancer. The Panel recognizes that:
- Pesticides are a chemical of concern.
- There is a need for stronger pesticide regulation and continued research on carcinogenicity potential.
- There are roughly 40 chemicals serving as active ingredients in pesticides currently on the market that are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “known, probable, or possible human carcinogens.”
- The combination of active with, so called, inert unregulated additives, some of which are known to be toxic, may make the risk of cancer even higher than predicted.
Especially Vulnerable: Children
Many of the most common childhood cancers listed by the American Cancer Society are associated with pesticide exposure.
- Children who live in homes where their parents use pesticides are twice as likely to develop brain cancer as those who do not.
- Higher rates of leukemia in children were similarly associated with pesticide use around the home, garden, and farm.
Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Neyman N, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Cho H, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2010, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, http://1.usa.gov/1gWb4FZ, based on November 2012 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2013.
High Risk: Agriculture
Many reports, including a 2010 report by the Agriculture Health Study titled “A Review of Pesticide Exposure and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study Cohort,” show a link between exposure to agricultural pesticides and incidences of prostate and breast cancers.
- The above study shows links between pesticide exposure and pancreatic and lung cancers.
- With the use of 9 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients used on agricultural lands every year and growing, the potential for unintended health outcomes will continue to climb.
For More Information
Children’s Health: Learn more about the unique cancer risks children face. Learn More
What You Can Do: For tips on how to make decisions that reduce your cancer risk in your home and community. Learn More
What We Do: Learn more about what Midwest Pesticide Action Center is doing to reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides. Learn More