Public Health Resources


Date of this Version



Louis et al. Environmental Health (2017) 16:95, DOI 10.1186/s12940-017-0298-1.


Copyright © The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Background: Organochlorine insecticides (OCs) have historically been used worldwide to control insects, although most have now been banned in developed countries. Evidence for an association between OC exposures and cancer predominantly comes from occupational and population based-studies among men. We evaluated the association between the use of specific OCs and cancer among the female spouses of pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.

Methods: At enrollment (1993–1997), spouses of private applicators in the cohort provided information about their own use of pesticides, including seven OCs (aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, DDT, heptachlor, lindane, and toxaphene), and information on potential confounders. We used Poisson regression to estimate relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for cancers (n ≥ 3 exposed cases) reported to state cancer registries from enrollment through 2012 (North Carolina) and 2013 (Iowa), and use of the individual OCs, as well as use of any of the specific OCs.

Results: Among 28,909 female spouses, 2191 (7.58%) reported ever use of at least one OC, of whom 287 were diagnosed with cancer. Most cancers were not associated with OC use. Risk of glioma was increased among users of at least one OC (Nexposed = 11, RR = 3.52, 95% CI 1.72–7.21) and specifically among lindane users (Nexposed = 3, RR = 4.45, 95% CI 1.36–14.55). Multiple myeloma was associated with chlordane (Nexposed = 6, RR = 2.71, 95% CI 1.12–6.55). Based on 3 exposed cases each, there were also positive associations between pancreatic cancer and lindane, and ER-PR- breast cancer and dieldrin. No other associations with breast cancer were found.

Conclusions: Overall, there were some associations with OC use and cancer incidence, however we were limited by the small number of exposed cancer cases. Future research should attempt to expand on these findings by assessing environmental sources of OC exposures, to fully evaluate the role of OC exposures on cancer risk in women.