Atrazine and cancer incidence among pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study (1994-2007)

Laura E. Beane Freeman, Jennifer A. Rusiecki, Jane A. Hoppin, Jay H. Lubin, Stella Koutros, Gabriella Andreotti, Shelia Hoar Zahm, Cynthia J. Hines, Joseph B. Coble, Francesco Barone-Adesi, Jennifer Sloan, Dale P. Sandler, Aaron Blair, Michael C.R. Alavanja

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103 Scopus citations


Background: Atrazine is a triazine herbicide used widely in the United States. Although it is an animal carcinogen, the mechanism in rodents does not appear to operate in humans. Few epidemiologic studies have provided evidence for an association. Methods: The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is a prospective cohort that includes 57,310 licensed pesticide applicators. In this report, we extend a previous AHS analysis of cancer risk associated with self-reported atrazine use with six additional years of follow-up and more than twice as many cancer cases. Using Poisson regression, we calculated relative risk estimates and 95% confidence intervals for lifetime use of atrazine and intensity-weighted lifetime days, which accounts for factors that impact exposure. Results: Overall, 36,357 (68%) of applicators reported using atrazine, among whom there were 3,146 cancer cases. There was no increase among atrazine users in overall cancer risk or at most cancer sites in the higher exposure categories compared with the lowest. Based on 29 exposed cases of thyroid cancer, there was a statistically significant risk in the second and fourth quartiles of intensity-weighted lifetime days. There was a similar pattern for lifetime days, but neither the risk estimates nor the trend were statistically significant and for neither metric was the trend monotonic. Conclusions: Overall, there was no consistent evidence of an association between atrazine use and any cancer site. There was a suggestion of increased risk of thyroid cancer, but these results are based on relatively small numbers and minimal supporting evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1259
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Atrazine
  • Cancer
  • Cohort study
  • Epidemiology
  • Pesticide


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