Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 807–818 | Cite as

Methyl bromide exposure and cancer risk in the Agricultural Health Study

  • Kathryn Hughes Barry
  • Stella Koutros
  • Jay H. Lubin
  • Joseph B. Coble
  • Francesco Barone-Adesi
  • Laura E. Beane Freeman
  • Dale P. Sandler
  • Jane A. Hoppin
  • Xiaomei Ma
  • Tongzhang Zheng
  • Michael C. R. Alavanja
Original paper



Methyl bromide is a genotoxic soil fumigant with high acute toxicity, but unknown human carcinogenicity. Although many countries have reduced methyl bromide use because of its ozone depleting properties, some uses remain in the United States and other countries, warranting further investigation of human health effects.


We used Poisson regression to calculate rate ratios (RR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI) for associations between methyl bromide use and all cancers combined, as well as 12 specific sites, among 53,588 Agricultural Health Study pesticide applicators with follow-up from 1993 to 2007. We also evaluated interactions with a family history for four common cancers (prostate, lung, colon, and lymphohematopoietic). We categorized methyl bromide exposure based on lifetime days applied weighted by an intensity score.


A total of 7,814 applicators (14.6 %) used methyl bromide, predominantly before enrollment. Based on 15 exposed cases, stomach cancer risk increased monotonically with increasing methyl bromide use (RR = 1.42; 95 % CI, 0.51–3.95 and RR = 3.13; 95 % CI, 1.25–7.80 for low and high use compared with no use; ptrend = 0.02). No other sites displayed a significant monotonic pattern. Although we previously observed an association with prostate cancer (follow-up through 1999), the association did not persist with longer follow-up. We observed a nonsignificant elevated risk of prostate cancer with methyl bromide use among those with a family history of prostate cancer, but the interaction with a family history did not achieve statistical significance.


Our results provide little evidence of methyl bromide associations with cancer risk for most sites examined; however, we observed a significant exposure-dependent increase in stomach cancer risk. Small numbers of exposed cases and declining methyl bromide use might have influenced our findings. Further study is needed in more recently exposed populations to expand on these results.


Methyl bromide Fumigant Pesticide Cancer 



This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (Z01CP010119), and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Z01ES049030), National Institutes of Health. Additionally, support for K.H.B. was provided by National Cancer Institute grant T32 CA105666.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. (outside the USA) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Hughes Barry
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stella Koutros
    • 1
  • Jay H. Lubin
    • 4
  • Joseph B. Coble
    • 1
  • Francesco Barone-Adesi
    • 1
  • Laura E. Beane Freeman
    • 1
  • Dale P. Sandler
    • 3
  • Jane A. Hoppin
    • 3
  • Xiaomei Ma
    • 2
  • Tongzhang Zheng
    • 2
  • Michael C. R. Alavanja
    • 1
  1. 1.Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and GeneticsNational Cancer Institute, National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.Yale School of Public HealthNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesNational Institutes of HealthResearch Triangle ParkUSA
  4. 4.Biostatistics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and GeneticsNational Cancer Institute, National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

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