Fathers for Organic – Part 4 of 7: Against All Odds

The Agricultural Health Study is a huge, ongoing, forward-looking analysis of the health of farmers and their families that began in 1993-4. Over 89,000 people are participating in the study. The study is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. The researchers are investigating the effects of environmental, occupational, dietary, and genetic factors on the health of the farmers and their families. (And I can only imagine that the health risks of farm laborers and their families are as high or higher than farmers and their families.)

In January 2005, they published their analysis of pesticide use and breast cancer risk in the families of the farmers. This part of the Agricultural Health Study looked at farmers’ wives without a history of breast cancer who were recruited into the study between 1993 and 1997. The researchers carefully analyzed the hundreds who developed breast cancer by the year 2000. (This is short-term data, so far. It will be many years before we have the story of what happens when the children in this study grow up. But children are even more vulnerable to most toxic exposures.)

Breast cancer rates increased with the use of several specific pesticides in the study. The strongest evidence of an increased breast cancer risk was seen with the husbands’ use of 2,4,5-TP. The rates of breast cancer increased steadily as the amount of exposure increased. This was consistent for wives living in different parts of the country. Increased breast cancer rates were also found for the husbands’ use of dieldrin, captan, and 2,4,5-T.

Strikingly, even with apparently less toxic pesticides, the closer the farmers’ houses were to where the pesticides were sprayed, the higher the rates of breast cancer in their wives. The women with homes closest to areas of pesticide application had the very highest rates8.

Cheryl’s childhood bedroom window was just a few feet from the grapevines.

Against all odds, Cheryl survived her cancer, and is an ever more vibrant, giving woman. She is still the heart and soul of DrGreene.com. We’re grateful every day for the opportunities we’ve had since 1996. Her cancer has changed us forever.

Did her early toxic pesticide exposure cause Cheryl’s cancer when she grew up? I didn’t know then, and I probably never will. But I did know that I didn’t want other children put at this risk. Our personal medical crisis was broadening my heart as a father to include children growing up on today’s farms. And to those outside of farm communities. Pesticides drift in our wind and in our groundwater. I was also starting to see children in cities and suburbs in a new light.

More From Fathers for Organic:
Dr. Greene’s Organic Journey
Fathers for Organic – Part 1 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 2 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 3 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 4 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 5 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 6 of 7
Fathers for Organic – Part 7 of 7

(8) Engel LS, Hill DA, Hoppin JA, Lubin JH, Lynch CF, Pierce J, Samanic C, Sandler DP, Blair A, Alavanja MC. Pesticide Use and Breast Cancer Risk among Farmers’ Wives in the Agricultural Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2005 161: 121-135.

Last medical review on: December 18, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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