Farm fatale

Rise in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other forms of cancer cases linked to farming activities

 
Published: Friday 30 April 1999

the number of cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma ( nhl ), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and testicular tumours increased in three predominantly agricultural counties in western Ireland during the past decade. The increase may be at least partly a result of increased exposure to agricultural chemicals, theorise Cecily Kelleher and colleagues of the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland.

Investigating anecdotal reports of a rise in testicular tumours and leukaemia in 14 per cent of workers in the fish farming industry, the researchers analysed the incidence of various cancers in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon counties between 1980 and 1990. The incidence of testicular tumours, nhl and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia increased significantly among manual workers, and certain agricultural workers, particularly fish farmers, in Western Ireland in the period.

Exactly why this happened still remains unclear. A number of medical conditions could be responsible but environmental carcinogens "may be more likely to be implicated in the development of nhl ", the researchers report. Some findings suggest that exposure to a wide range of chemicals used in farming and forestry can increase risks of the disease. Farmers who had lymphoma or leukaemia were less likely to use protective masks while spraying pesticides and other chemicals than those who were cancer-free, the researchers noted. And those with cancer were also more likely to use hand-held pesticide sprayers, or back-mounted sprayers, rather than tractor-mounted sprayers, they reported.

In the light of these findings, possible links between incidence of cancer and agricultural activities demand further study. But "in a country with a strong dependence on agriculture, the implications for further occupational surveillance and for attention to work practice is clear," they wrote ( Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health , Vol 52, No 10).

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