Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 420-443

First online:

Pesticides and cancer

  • Jan DichAffiliated withDepartment of Cancer Epidemiology, Institution of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institute and Radiumhemmet, Karolinska University Hospital
  • , Shelia Hoar ZahmAffiliated withEnvironmental Epidemiology Branch, US National Cancer Institute
  • , Annika HanbergAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute
  • , Hans-Olov AdamiAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute

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Epidemiologic evidence on the relationship between chemical pesticides and cancer is reviewed. In animal studies, many pesticides are carcinogenic, (e.g., organochlorines, creosote, and sulfallate) while others (notably, the organochlorines DDT, chlordane, and lindane) are tumor promoters. Some contaminants in commercial pesticide formulations also may pose a carcinogenic risk. In humans, arsenic compounds and insecticides used occupationally have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Human data, however, are limited by the small number of studies that evaluate individual pesticides. Epidemiologic studies, although some-times contradictory, have linked phenoxy acid herbicides or contaminants in them with soft tissue sarcoma (STS) and malignant lymphoma; organochlorine insecticides are linked with STS, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, and, less consistently, with cancers of the lung and breast; organophosphorous compounds are linked with NHL and leukemia; and triazine herbicides with ovarian cancer. Few, if any, of these associations can be considered established and causal. Hence, further epidemiologic studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides, taking into consideration work practices, use of protective equipment, and other measures to reduce risk.

Malignant lymphoma occupational exposure soft tissue sarcoma