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Study links herbicide use to prostate cancer

by Brenda Suderman

Western Producer Newsfeature Service


A recent federal study linking prostate cancer to herbicide use is another reason farmers should be cautious when handling farm chemicals, says the chief occupational medical officer for Manitoba.

"The advice is the evidence is mounting that herbicides do have long range adverse effects and that personal protection is very important," Ted Redekop said.

The study by Health and Welfare Canada found the rate of prostate cancer in prairie farmers doubled for every 100 hectares of land sprayed with herbicides.

The chemical most commonly used in the study was 2,4-D, a phenoxy type herbicide widely used to spray cereal crops.

"We found farmers that sprayed a lot of herbicides had roughly twice the incidence of prostate cancer," said Howard Morrison, who headed the study of 150,000 prairie farmers.

Morrison, head of risk assessment for the cancer division of the federal health department, analyzed the medical records of the farmers. The study was based on Census of Agriculture figures and mortality rates from 1971 to 1987.

Researchers then identified how many of those farmers sprayed herbicide on more than 100 hectares, and looked at the cause of death for deceased farmers in the study. Of the 150,000 farmers studied, 1,150 died of prostate cancer, said Morrison.

Although the study links herbicide use to increased incidence of prostate cancer, Morrison said the study doesn’t necessarily prove the chemicals cause cancer.

"I agree that it’s not conclusive," he said. "There’s no single study that is conclusive." But the size of the research group adds weight to the link between the use of chemicals and prostate cancer, he said.

Redekop also cautioned against assuming that herbicides are the direct and only cause of prostate cancer.

"This is a warning as opposed to anything else," he said. "Because prostate

cancer is so common, there must be lots of things that influence prostate cancer. This is one of them."

Morrison’s study is one of several examining cancer rates in the rural and

farming population. Research at the Centre for Agricultural Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan indicates women living on farms have higher risks of developing certain types of cancer.

Copyright 1993 REAP Canada

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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