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Keywords:

  • agricultural chemicals;
  • animal viruses;
  • antigenic stimulation;
  • occupational cancer

Abstract

The incidence of cancer in agricultural workers is generally low, in part due to the low prevalence of cigarette smoking in this group. However, agricultural workers have elevated risks for several specific cancer types including leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the lip, stomach, prostate, brain, and connective tissue. Two major groups of risk factors have been proposed as causes of hematologic malignancies in agricultural workers. The first group includes various agricultural chemicals. In particular, several studies have found increased risks of malignant lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma in persons exposed to phenoxy herbicides. However, the evidence is inconsistent and there is a wide variation in relative risk estimates. The second group of risk factors includes various animal viruses. There is currently little evidence concerning the zoonotic nature or human carcinogenicity of these viruses. However, leads have been suggested by recent evidence of increased risks of hematologic malignancies in abattoir workers, veterinarians, and meat inspectors. A third hypothesis, for which little evidence is currently available, is that agricultural work may involve prolonged antigenic stimulus leading to lymphoproliferation. The factors responsible for the increased risks for cancers other than hematologic malignancies are not well understood but may also involve exposure to chemicals or viruses.