Pesticides linked to brain tumours, but risk is small

In collaboration with the Press Association

Despite new research suggesting agricultural workers exposed to high levels of pesticides appear to have an increased risk of developing brain tumours, Cancer Research UK says any risk is likely to be very small. In a questionnaire-based study, researchers from the French Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology and Development asked 221 people with brain tumours about their past history of pesticide use. They compared their answers with over 400 similar people from the general population who had never had cancer. Their findings are published online ahead of print publication in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The team found that all agricultural workers who said they had been exposed to pesticides had a slightly increased risk of brain tumour, and those who recalled being exposed to the highest levels were more than twice as likely to develop tumours as the general population. People in this group were also three times more likely to develop gliomas - a type of central nervous system tumour - which seemed to be more common in men than women, although the researchers speculate that this could be due to men being exposed to pesticides more often than females. However, Josephine Querido, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "More research is needed to confirm the observations made in this study, as the results were based on people's recollection of pesticide exposure. "Brain tumours are relatively rare and although workers exposed to high levels of pesticides in industry or farming may be at higher risk of certain cancers, current evidence is inconclusive and any risks are likely to be very small." In addition, the researchers discovered that people who use pesticides on house plants also have a more than twofold risk of developing a brain tumour, although they were unable to determine the types of agents used in home environments.