Monday, June 7, 2010

Cancer in Farmers

Cancer has really been in the news with the latest study findings and the President's response to it. The first thing farmers thing of is our potential exposure to pesticides and potential cancer causing pathogens.

Good news comes from the long term study of 89,000 farm families in Iowa and North Carolins.

"Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study – abstract

Alavanja MCR, Sandler DP, Lynch CF, Knott C, Lubin JH, Tarone R, Thomas K, Dosemeci M, Barker J, Hoppin JA, Blair A. Scand J Work Environ Health, 31 (S1): 39–45 (2005).

The overall cancer occurrence among farmers and their spouses in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is significantly less than that expected compared to other men and women of the same age living in Iowa and North Carolina. Farmers have only 88% of the cancer expected and their spouses have only 84% of the cancer expected.
Commercial pesticide applicators, on the other hand, were observed to have the same cancer frequency as that of other men in Iowa and North Carolina. The low overall cancer rates among farmers and their spouses are due in part to their less frequent use of tobacco products and possibly due to greater physical activity on the job. Nonetheless, a number of cancers are observed to occur with significantly greater frequency among farm families in the AHS.
The risk of prostate cancer is significantly greater among farmers and commercial applicators. Female spouses had a significantly greater frequency of a serious type of skin cancer (i.e., melanoma) and female pesticide applicators had a significantly greater frequency of ovarian cancer.
Although the overall cancer picture is generally encouraging for farm families, we are finding that some cancers including lung, colon and some blood related cancers may be related to specific occupational exposures on the farm. Our ongoing research should be able to identify the responsible agents of disease within the next few years.
Dad had prostate cancer but lived to be 85. He also smoked. Mycotoxins we breathe in our lungs has always been a concern of mine because I have had asthma since childhood.
These all give us some clues to think about during our daily tasks. What it takes is setting standards based on your risk and exposure and making special effort to form lifelong habits that avoid these exposures.
I have mentioned breast cancer has been rampant in my cousins and siblings generation. Three of the seven girls were diagnosed with it in later life.
The positive thing is the lower overall cancer cases in farm families. It may be less tobacco but I think the daily routine has a lot to do with it. To me that one finding is really good news with all the bad news we each hear every day.
I am very sorry for my friends in northwest Ohio and the loss of life and property yesterday in the tornado outbreak. I pray that all of you overcome the losses in the hope of a better day.
Ed Winkle


  1. I recall an Italian study back in the 1980s that showed farmers and farm workers (men in this case) how less urinary track problems than urban/office workers because it was more convenient for men working in agriculture to relieve themselves. There were benefits to answering the call of nature as soon as possible. Keep that in mind the next time you take a whiz out in the field.

  2. LOL, now that was funny! Just had my physical and Doc said "Ed you test pretty well for a guy your age but you have really beat the crap out of your body." My arthritis and elbow and joints are becoming a problem. My bladder is OK, LOL.

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