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Your Environment. Your Health.

Prostate Cancer Risk Increased with Ambient Exposure to Pesticides

Beate Ritz, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California Los Angeles
NIEHS Grants R01ES010544, U54ES012078, and P30ES007048

A new study from NIEHS-supported epidemiologists finds that exposure to certain agricultural pesticides increase the risk of prostate cancer. This study adds to the mounting research that suggests insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides wreak havoc on the male endocrine system.

Exposure to methyl bromine and other organochlorine pesticides were associated with an up to two-fold increase in prostate cancer risk in the 173 men with prostate cancer in the study when compared to controls. Captan, a fungicide used widely on apple orchards in the United States was associated with prostate cancer as well, but only at relatively high levels of exposure. The researchers conclude that efforts to limit the dissemination of pesticide residues into the environment are not as protective as they need to be to limit human exposure.

According the study, the most likely reason for the increased risk is a complex interplay of genetics and the environment. The researchers speculate that only those men with a certain genotype will develop prostate cancer if they are exposed to pesticides. Preventing exposure by reducing the use of pesticides, increasing organic growing practices and other methods of limiting contact with pesticides would most likely prevent the disease from developing or progressing in these susceptible populations.

Citation: Cockburn M, Mills P, Zhang X, Zadmich J, Goldberg D, Ritz B. Prostate cancer and ambient pesticide exposure in agriculturally intensive areas in California. Am J Epidemiol, 2011 Jun 1;173(11):1280-8.

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