Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 26, Issue 11, pp 1583–1591 | Cite as

Exposure to environmental chemicals and heavy metals, and risk of pancreatic cancer

  • Samuel O. Antwi
  • Elizabeth C. Eckert
  • Corinna V. Sabaque
  • Emma R. Leof
  • Kieran M. Hawthorne
  • William R. Bamlet
  • Kari G. Chaffee
  • Ann L. Oberg
  • Gloria M. PetersenEmail author
Original paper



Exposure to various chemicals and heavy metals has been associated with risk of different cancers; however, data on whether such exposures may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer (PC) are very limited and inconclusive. We examined PC risk with self-reported exposures to chemicals and heavy metals.


The design was a clinic-based, case–control study of data collected from 2000 to 2014 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. Cases were rapidly ascertained patients diagnosed with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (n = 2,092). Controls were cancer-free patients in primary care clinics (n = 2,353), frequency-matched to cases on age, race, sex, and state/region of residence. Cases and controls completed identical risk factor questionnaires, which included yes/no questions about regular exposure to pesticides, asbestos, benzene, chlorinated hydrocarbons, chromium, and nickel. Unconditional logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI) comparing those who affirmed exposure to each of the chemicals/heavy metals to those who reported no regular exposure, adjusting for potential confounders.


Self-reported regular exposure to pesticides was associated with increased odds of PC (OR 1.21, 95 % CI 1.02–1.44). Regular exposure to asbestos (OR 1.54, 95 % CI 1.23–1.92), benzene (OR 1.70, 95 % CI 1.23–2.35), and chlorinated hydrocarbons (OR 1.63, 95 % CI 1.32–2.02) also was associated with higher odds of PC. Chromium and nickel exposures were not significantly associated with PC.


These findings add to the limited data suggesting that exposure to pesticides, asbestos, benzene, and chlorinated hydrocarbons may increase PC risk. They further support the importance of implementing strategies that reduce exposure to these substances.


Pancreatic cancer Pesticides Chlorinated hydrocarbons Asbestos Benzene 



Body mass index


Confidence interval




S-ethyl dipropylthiocarbamate


Meta-risk ratio


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs


Odds ratio


Pancreatic cancer



The authors thank the dedicated staff of the Mayo Clinic Pancreatic Cancer Registry and the study participants for their important contributions. The authors also thank Dr. Timothy J. Beebe for his expert advice on survey research.


This work was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Grants P50CA102701 and 2R25CA092049-11. It was also partly supported by CTSA Grant Number TL1 TR000137 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose. Written informed consent was obtained from all participants. This study was approved by the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10552_2015_652_MOESM1_ESM.docx (42 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel O. Antwi
    • 1
  • Elizabeth C. Eckert
    • 2
  • Corinna V. Sabaque
    • 1
  • Emma R. Leof
    • 1
  • Kieran M. Hawthorne
    • 3
  • William R. Bamlet
    • 3
  • Kari G. Chaffee
    • 3
  • Ann L. Oberg
    • 3
  • Gloria M. Petersen
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Division of Epidemiology, Health Sciences ResearchMayo ClinicRochesterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical and Translational Science, Mayo Clinic Graduate SchoolMayo ClinicRochesterUSA
  3. 3.Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics, Health Sciences ResearchMayo ClinicRochesterUSA

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